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Operation Jackpot catalyst for romance, intrigue

Mikie Hayes | MUSC News Center | September 9, 2014

Occam’s Razor
Sarah Pack

With its treasured reputation for charm and hospitality, “drug-runner’s paradise” was hardly the moniker Charleston was proud of.  

Social prominence notwithstanding, a clandestine federal operation known as “Operation Jackpot” brought shame and notoriety to the quaint coastal community that never had a clue more than 100 drug smugglers were running Lebanese hashish and Colombian marijuana through Sea Island marshes and winding Lowcountry inlets bound for distribution up and down the East Coast.

The year is 1983, and at the Medical University of South Carolina, Declan Murphy, a well-regarded OB–GYN, is caught up in a quest to right past wrongs. A new patient, Helene Eastland, a runaway, ends up under his care, but in no way is she a stranger to him. The fact that she is currently involved with the Jackpot drug smugglers is but one of many problems facing her. Murphy must ultimately decide if it’s in his best interest to help her escape the clutches of a morally corrupt governor and rabid federal prosecutors or walk away from the drama, yet again betraying her trust.

After a great deal of deliberation, Murphy decides to help his patient get away which requires him to become part of the conspiracy. While on the run, they wind up dead center in a suspenseful plot that combines serious allegations and forbidden love. From the romantic Butterfly House at Brookgreen Gardens to Big John’s Tavern, a local dive on East Bay Street, Murphy does his best to protect his charge from those who would cause her, and perhaps him, harm.

Their journey together is a nail–biter to say the least. To find out what becomes of Murphy and Eastland, you’ll have to pick up your  own copy of “Occam’s Razor,” a medical thriller written by MUSC’s own Roger Newman, M.D., which is set against a backdrop of MUSC and the Lowcountry.

The idea of an OB–GYN treating a patient involved with the drug smugglers had actually been floating around Newman’s head since the early 80s when he treated just such a patient.

A nationally–recognized expert in high–risk obstetrics, he always hoped he’d have time to put pen to paper and bring the concept to life. Nearly 30 years later, his wish became a reality.

In 2010, with the story in mind, his computer on his lap, the TV on in the background for white noise, he finally sat down in the quiet of his home and began to write about Murphy and Eastland.

He set the book during the time when the true–life events took place and thought it would be a lot of fun to include the MUSC storyline. Was it just a coincidence that the protagonist happened to be an OB–GYN at MUSC?

“Certainly there are not a lot of books where the hero is an OB–GYN,” Newman said. “Declan Murphy is a great character, albeit flawed. He’s an attending physician at the Medical University of South Carolina and there are a lot of scenes that take place at MUSC as well as other Charleston touchstones that people will recognize and relate to.”

One scene in the book places Murphy at the Variety Store at the Charleston Marina, eating breakfast and reading about the Jackpot drug busts. He told the waitress, “Hey, I know one of these guys.” And the waitress replied, “We all do honey!”

Truth can often be stranger than fiction, and like his character in the book, Newman too knew one of the drug smugglers. In fact, he said, “We actually played basketball with the guy who turned out to be one of the kingpins. We had no idea. We just knew he was a cool guy who always paid for beer after the games!”

Dr. Roger Newman 

Having two personal points of intersection with Operation Jackpot made the notion of creating a story with a medical spin enticing. Though Newman knew he had an interesting tale to tell, unlike the profession of medicine, he didn’t consider being a writer a “calling” or a particular passion.

In fact, nothing in particular led Newman at that precise moment to begin to write, except perhaps for the fact that his last child had just left home bound for college, and theirs was now an empty nest.  

Through the process of writing his first book, Newman discovered that developing characters and storylines allowed him to let his imagination run free, and that is something he enjoys.

Unlike some writers who have a beginning, middle and end in mind when they set out to write a book, Newman had only the idea for the story. From there, he wrote on Saturday and Sunday mornings and in a very linear fashion, he said. “Essentially, I just wrote start to finish, ensuring I took many breaks in between to enjoy life. I really don’t know if that’s the normal way to write or not.”

He laughed and added, “My creative process is not a flowing river — it’s more like a mud flow — so it makes it easy to walk away from it and come back to it when I have time.”

People who have read “Occam’s Razor” tell Newman they can hear his voice and humor throughout the book. The character of Murphy is a composite of many people, from the past through the present. “Murphy is flip, but has no temper. He has a great Irish sense of humor and defies authority. Let’s just say he has a problem being told what to do,” laughed Newman.

Practicing medicine remains Newman’s first professional love, although writing quickly became his second. He has 30 years in the South Carolina state system and has cut back on the time he practices, allowing him to spend more time with family.

“Being an OB–GYN takes doctors away from their families a lot. I’m happy to be recapturing that time with my loved ones,” he said.

In addition to practicing medicine, writing and spending quality time with family, Newman is having a great time serving as the assistant coach for the women’s varsity basketball team at Academic Magnet High School. At 6–feet, 3–inches tall, Newman was a basketball star himself back in high school. He is excited to coach again this year and believes the Raptors will be playoff quality.

He is at a point in life where he is genuinely enjoying himself in all areas but was happy he could cut back on his clinical hours. “I feel like I’m at a golden age,” he said. “I’m working and I enjoy my work. I have more time at home, time to write, and time to pursue other things I love like coaching.”

When asked what he would ultimately like to have happen with his first book, he said success to him simply means people wanting to read his work and enjoying it — no more, no less.

“Writing gives me a tremendous sense of accomplishment that is my own, that is creative. It feels good. For me to enjoy it, it doesn’t have to be published or be successful, but I love that it is published and that it’s doing well. Writing a good paragraph feels good and writing a good chapter feels even better. And when the story is done and you read it and you like it, there’s a sense that you created something. It just makes you feel vital, and you want to do it again. So I am.”

Newman has nearly completed the first draft of his second book, a follow–up to “Occam’s Razor.”

“Occam’s razor” refers to the principle that states the simplest answer is usually the best. It is also known as the Law of Parsimony. The old adage: When you hear hoofbeats think horse, not zebra, is the principle of Occam’s razor adapted to use in the field of medicine as a diagnostic tool. When there are multiple presenting signs and symptoms, according to Newman, the explanation that most simply and completely explains them is probably the correct diagnosis.




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