The Good Nurse – Book Review

Book Rating: ★★★★☆   (4.5 / 5 stars)
Audio Book Performance: ★★★★☆ (4 / 5 Stars)

We go to hospitals expecting our lives to be saved.

Yet, for many unsuspecting victims, that wasn’t the case.

Meet Charles Cullen – possibly one of America’s most prolific serial killers. Over the course of a 16 year career, it is believed he killed at least 40 individuals…but some believe he murdered upwards of 400. For years, he acted under the noses of hospitals, injecting patients with lethal levels of insulin and other drugs. Why? What did he hope to gain? What did he see in doing this? Author Charles Graeber may be one of the only individuals granted an interview with Charles Cullen, and in this, be one of the few people who can put together the events that ensued.

As with any true crime narrative, one thing you have to remember is this: the story is an examination of a killer, but it is also about the victims. Graeber does not do anything to romanticize Cullen, but rather shed light onto the perverse nature going through this man’s head. Charles Cullen saw himself as a victim, using his own “trauma” as a method to justify his terrible ways. In no case are the victims blamed for what Cullen did, and nor is his mental illness seen as justification for what he did. While Cullen suffered through depression most of his life, and experienced great trauma in childhood, this is not an excuse; this is foiled by his friend, Amy, who has suffered similarly, but did not turn to murder. No; Cullen is a ruthless individual, manipulative and emotionless in his crimes. 

When writing these types of novels, I believe it is important to make this distinction. As a reader, it is important to remember that too. Personally, I love true crime; I love examining the minds of these killers…because part of me cannot FATHOM someone ever going to these extreme actions. (I do have to say, as a writer, it is a great character study as well.) 

One thing we do not ever truly get an answer about is WHY Cullen did all of this, and truthfully, there might not be a “why”. His apathetic nature was a cry for attention, and whether he got a rush or wanted to cull the pain of others, even Cullen never quite sheds light onto it. 

But, what this investigation does show is the failings of bureaucracy in a corporate structure (such as the hospitals Cullen worked at through his 16 year career). If there were better employment records, more adherence to ethics and morals, and less red tape…would someone like Charles Cullen have succeeded? Or would his victims be alive today? I was happy to hear that the State of New Jersey has increased their oversight laws since Cullen was arrested. But I am sure more “Angel of Death” killers are out there today, even if they aren’t killing by the tens (or hundreds). 

Overall, this was an intriguing true crime novel (and audiobook) that kept me engaged and curious about what will happen next. While I wish we might have gotten more of an insight into the court case as well as Cullen’s motivations, I know sometimes that is limited to what is offered by witnesses and the convicted himself. Definitely an intriguing case overall.

But remember: do not put Cullen on a pedestal. Remember his victims. And celebrate the heroes. 

What’s it about?

After his December 2003 arrest, registered nurse Charlie Cullen was quickly dubbed “The Angel of Death” by the media. But Cullen was no mercy killer, nor was he a simple monster. He was a favorite son, husband, beloved father, best friend, and celebrated caregiver. Implicated in the deaths of as many as 300 patients, he was also perhaps the most prolific serial killer in American history.

Cullen’s murderous career in the world’s most trusted profession spanned sixteen years and nine hospitals across New Jersey and Pennsylvania. When, in March of 2006, Charles Cullen was marched from his final sentencing in an Allentown, Pennsylvania, courthouse into a waiting police van, it seemed certain that the chilling secrets of his life, career, and capture would disappear with him. Now, in a riveting piece of investigative journalism nearly ten years in the making, journalist Charles Graeber presents the whole story for the first time. Based on hundreds of pages of previously unseen police records, interviews, wire-tap recordings and videotapes, as well as exclusive jailhouse conversations with Cullen himself and the confidential informant who helped bring him down, THE GOOD NURSE weaves an urgent, terrifying tale of murder, friendship, and betrayal.

Graeber’s portrait of Cullen depicts a surprisingly intelligent and complicated young man whose promising career was overwhelmed by his compulsion to kill, and whose shy demeanor masked a twisted interior life hidden even to his family and friends. Were it not for the hardboiled, unrelenting work of two former Newark homicide detectives racing to put together the pieces of Cullen’s professional past, and a fellow nurse willing to put everything at risk, including her job and the safety of her children, there’s no telling how many more lives could have been lost.

In the tradition of In Cold Blood, THE GOOD NURSE does more than chronicle Cullen’s deadly career and the breathless efforts to stop him; it paints an incredibly vivid portrait of madness and offers a penetrating look inside America’s medical system. Harrowing and irresistibly paced, this book will make you look at medicine, hospitals, and the people who work in them, in an entirely different way. 

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