Book Review: The Good Nurse by Charles Graeber


Rating: 4.5 / 5

Charlie Cullen is most likely the most prolific serial killer in U.S. history.  It is estimated that he killed over 400 people in the span of 16 years working at various hospitals in the New Jersey and Pennsylvania area.  The reason an exact number is not known is because this occurred before the advent of electronic record-keeping.  Also, in many cases, by the time authorities figured out what Cullen was up to, the victims were long dead and there was no hard evidence, and, in the 16 years Cullen was murdering hospital patients, there was no records retention mandate in place.  Furthermore, Cullen is the only one who knows who he killed, but his memory is fleeting and his story constantly changing.  

I can’t even begin to describe The Good Nurse.  It reads like a murder mystery, yet the events were real.  In The Good Nurse, Graeber takes the reader through Cullen’s life, from his medical discharge in the Navy through his tumultuous relationships with women, to his numerous gigs at various hospitals.  I’m not sure what I found more disturbing: Charlie himself, or the reaction from hospital administrators and lawyers when confronted with the problem of a sudden spike in patient deaths by unnatural causes. Actually, I find the hospitals reaction bothersome.  Although many of the hospitals Charlie worked at realized there was something wrong and fired him, no one took the initiative to investigate his behavior or actions.  On top of that, although he was fired, at the next hospital he applied to, his previous employer would not share their concerns over Charlie’s behavior. So although one hospital believed that Charlie was behind the death of their patients, personnel couldn’t prove it, and instead confirmed his employment and washed their hands of him.  In this way, he was able to bounce from one hospital to another, leaving a wave of dead bodies with suspicious causes of death.

The last hospital Charlie worked at, Somerset Medical Center in New Jersey, was quite possibly the worst.  They knew they had a problem with mysterious deaths, and knew that Charlie was somehow involved.  However, even with suspicious reports of Charlie dispensing drugs in large quantities, multiple times, and drugs that his patients had not been prescribed, Somerset waited five months to call in investigators, and then proceeded to obstruct the investigation for fear of liability.  Luckily, the two investigators assigned to the case, Tim Braun and Dan Baldwin, were competent, hard-working, and obstinate in seeking justice. Not enough can be said about these two, in light of the fact that the type of murder Charlie was committing left little or no direct evidence, and Charlie was adept at covering his tracks.

Graeber has definitely written a page turner with The Good Nurse. The story is well-crafted, and it is readily apparent how much effort Graeber put into researching and interviewing those involved with Charlie Cullen.  The Good Nurse also highlights corporate greed, and takes an in-dept look at medical establishments.

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