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The Heart Merchants

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Paperback Library, New York, 1970
(originally published by WH Allen & Co, 1970)
price: 95c; 272 pages

The blurb on the back:

The Doctor - Dr John Lynn, a respected, successful surgeon. He didn't feel he was ready to perform a heart transplant. But the outside pressures were great - and so were his ambition and need for fame.
The Donor - Freddy Combs, a juvenile delinquent fatally injured while driving a stolen car. His father thought he could sell Freddy's heart to the highest bidder..
The Patients - Carl Schilling, a rich, powerful presidential adviser working on a vital government project when his heart failed. He was also John Lynn's father-in-law.
Or - Terry Yannet, young creative, an artist with a contribution to make. And he was black and poor and in trouble with the law.
Only one man could live. The other would surely die. It was up to Dr John Lynn to play God and decide!

opening lines:
The dream was always the same. The jangle of the telephone bell slowly penetrating a deep, dreamless sleep, persisting, pushing back unconscious freedom, opening him to fretful awakening.

If you read the sleeve notes, you may conclude that this is just a straight rip-off of George Bernard Shaw's play The Doctor's Dilemma, which itself was the Shaw piece most derivative of Henrik Ibsen's social issue phase. And you'd be dead right. There may be nothing new under the sun (or in the Sun), but you're supposed at least to pretend.

There are, however, a couple of twists here. One is the reverence with which heart transplant surgery is seen in these early years after Christiaan Barnard (whose fame incidentally is ascribed here to the endeavours of his PR people): transplant surgeons are compared to Columbus and Lindbergh in their heralding of a brave new age. And the other is the element of race - a popular theme of the time and one handled pretty well here: there's never any doubt about where our sympathies lie.

Other than that, it's a fairly routine piece of work, told retrospectively from the angle of the transplant surgeon being charged by a disciplinary panel with unprofessional behaviour - specifically that he took the new heart before the donor could properly be said to be dead.

Lawrence Louis Goldman had previously specialized in screenplays, working on TV shows such as The Cisco Kid, The Fugitive and Perry Mason and writing period-piece movies like War of the Satellites, Kronos and Roger Corman's The Viking Women and the Sea Serpent. Not exactly a household name, then, but a better writer than his c.v. might suggest.