A 22-year-old model with a distinct tattoo is murdered in Miami Beach. A dermatologist learns of the mysterious case while taking a skin cancer biopsy from a friend, a red-headed, fair-skinned policeman. “Doc, you know a lot about tattoos, don’t you?”
So starts “The Skinvestigator: Tramp Stamp,” the first in the Sunshine State Trilogy series of hard-boiled detective fiction written by Florida dermatologist Dr. Terry Cronin, Jr.
“It takes a lot of the knowledge I have about tattoos and feeds it into the mystery,” Dr. Cronin said in an interview. “But it also talks a lot about ‘scalpel tourism,’ where people go to foreign nations to get plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery at cut-rate prices, and a lot of times they get mutilated. That plays a big part in the murder mystery.”
Miami dermatologist Dr. Harry Poe delivers some important messages in the book as well. “He’s out there trying to promote prevention of skin cancer.” Like most dermatologists, he faces the challenge of warning people about the dangers of sun exposure in a culture that values tanning and looks above safety. When Dr. Poe goes to the beach, for example, everyone is lying out in the sun while he’s wearing long sleeves, a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. “And people make fun of him,” Dr. Cronin said.
A dermatologist as detective makes sense – because they use the same type of skills to diagnose skin conditions in their patients every day, explained Dr. Cronin, who is in private practice in Melbourne, Florida.
“I’ve always had a creative flair. I was involved in film making ‑ short films, going to independent film festivals. I ended up writing for comic books. Then I got the idea that I really wanted to tell a story that was pro-dermatologists.” Although Dr. Cronin had always kept his professional and creative sides separate, that was about to change.
“I wanted to tell a story in which the dermatologist was the hero. I love mysteries, like the Travis McGee series from John D. MacDonald and books byEd McBain and Ken Bruen. I thought ‘maybe I can make this hard-boiled dermatologist detective story, in which the dermatologist is pulled into an investigation. By using his expertise in diseases of the skin, he is able to help police solve a murder.”
Even though Dr. Cronin went through a “big process” of writing draft after draft, honing the story through multiple editors (including Michael Garrett, an editor for Stephen King), and encountering some challenges along the way, he encourages other physicians to pursue their outside passions as well.
“If a physician wants to be a writer, they should let their creative juices flow and do it. Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” Dr. Cronin said. “All doctors are pretty smart people, pretty motivated people, who have lots of talents. Some have those talents, but they tamp them down because of their professional needs. I think you have to have an outlet.”
Dr. Cronin initially self-published and sold copies of “Tramp Stamp” at Comic-Con and through Amazon.com. Then a friend at Barnes & Noble encouraged him to sell the bookstore management on ‘The Skinvestigator” series. They liked it and helped him find a publisher. (The store does not inventory self-published titles.) “Now it’s on the shelf in Barnes & Noble. That’s a thrill.”
Dermatologist colleagues have been very supportive, Dr. Cronin said. “That’s the thing I like the most. A lot of dermatologists have been reading it and giving me feedback that is good. I appreciate that.”
“The lay person will enjoy the book, but a dermatologist will get a kick out of it. They know the language and they will laugh because so much of it is authentic.”
The second book in the series “The Skinvestigator: Rash Guard” is about surfers, syphilis, and the state department. The third installment, yet to be published, will be called “The Skinvestigator: Sun Burn.”
–Damian McNamara @MedReporter on twitter