MCV faculty member writes medical thriller novel

Author and MCV faculty member Richard Wenzel signed his newest novel, “Labyrinth of Terror,” on Thursday at Barnes and Noble. Photo by Chris Conway
Author and MCV faculty member Richard Wenzel signed his newest novel, “Labyrinth of Terror,” on Thursday at Barnes and Noble. Photo by Chris Conway

Samantha Foster
Spectrum Editor

MCV faculty member and practicing physician, Richard Wenzel, Ph.D., stepped away from his day job and writing non-fiction medical books to write a medical thriller novel.

The book, “Labyrinth of Terror,” was presented at a book signing by Wenzel at the Monroe Park Campus Barnes and Noble on April 4. The CT spoke to Wenzel about his novel.


Tell us a bit about the novel, “Labyrinth of Terror.”

Basically, I would label it as a medical thriller. It has several themes, one of them is certainly a bioengineered organism as it gets into a hospital and starts causing severe infections.

The question is who is doing it, why are they doing it, what’s their motive, is there more to come? The story takes place in London, a city where I had lived for a year. …

The microbiologist knows that something is wrong because people who aren’t really debilitated are getting this infection and it’s much more aggressive than you would expect it to be. He teams up with an American epidemiologist — a scientist who studies the causes and effects of diseases in a population — who happens to be coming in for a conference.

The microbiologist is looking at the organism and why it is so aggressive and the epidemiologist is trying to help by saying why is this here, what are common about the infections, comparing people who got the infection to those who didn’t. And then, of course, they bring in a beautiful woman from MI5 (the British intelligence agency), Elizabeth Foster, who brings her forensic talents and understanding of human psychology to the table, and that’s the trio.

What makes this a little unusual is the usual sleuths that try to solve this thing. We have a medical doctor teaming up with an MI5 person.

Along the way, the title actually comes from Greek mythology, which is hidden throughout the book. It’s an interest of mine, but it also helps explain the motives of the perpetrators of this biological terror, which is biologically engineered.

The other theme and influence is the activities that are going on in the Middle East. … Although the story mostly takes place in London, it goes throughout Europe and has a bit to do with the Middle East in terms of geography, but mostly in terms of motivation.


You mentioned that you were in London for a year and that that is where the inspiration from your book came from. Why were you in London?

It was in the mid-’80s. I had a sabbatical year at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. It was very old school and very famous for tropical medicine and epidemiology.

I just loved everything about the city. It was a very free time when my family was there and we were sharing a whole new experience. …

The way that they teach there was a little bit different in the way that they incorporate the history of ideas more than I thought I saw in some American universities. They had a rigorous program that involved statistics which was one of the reasons I went there, for epidemiology as well as some microbiology.


Writing a book is very different from your current career path. Why did you choose to write a novel?

I had written one non-fiction book around 2005, and that was called “Stalking Microbes.” It added to, if you step away from it all, the interaction between people and microbes. What we say is infection is the organism just trying to get along.

I had eight essays, each about a different organism, the history of the organism, a bit about the infections. Along the way, some of the people that read it said that it was really interesting; mostly, it appealed to those interested in microbiology, infection and medicine and a couple friends. They told me I should use my imagination more and I said, “Well, it is non-fiction; I don’t want to make stuff up,” and they thought I might influence more people if I wrote fiction.

I love writing. I do a ton of writing but this is different and more fun because I could bring the themes that I am interested in, as an infectious disease specialist, and that includes the concern about bio-terror, Greek mythology and Middle Eastern and all the history of (London) and so it became fun. I loved it.


How long did it take you to write  “Labyrinth of Terror”?

Well, my day job got in the way a little bit every now and then, but over a period of about four years, which is pretty good considering that I do so many reviews. … When you write, you have to be alone, I think.


Why do you think you have to be alone?

Well, I think you need quiet time to write. It’s not something I can do with 15 minutes here and there, or something like that. You need a couple hours where you really be by yourself and get into it, in the moment. Just completely focused on writing, the words, the structure, as well as the themes.


What advice do you have to other people who choose to write?

Well certainly I think you write about what you’re really passionate about. It’s always work, but it’s like your favorite hobby in a sense. … I really do think you need to have some time when you’re free and in terms of just having the time and the discipline to put in.

Then I think the other thing that helped me a little bit was just reading other writers and reading about people who give advice about writing. For example, Stephen King has a book on writing. Just listening to people who are majorly successful, that helps.

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