Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"The Alchemy of Murder"

Carol McCleary was born in Seoul, Korea and lived in Hong Kong, Japan, and the Philippines. She now lives on Cape Cod in an antique house that is haunted by ghosts.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Alchemy of a Murder, her first novel, and reported the following:
In 1889, Nellie Bly, the world’s first investigative reporter, Jules Verne, the “inventor” of science fiction, Louis Pasteur, the great microbe hunter, and Oscar Wilde, the cafĂ© wit who shocked the Victorians with his scandalous sex life, were all in Paris – along with a dazzling world’s fair, a pandemic that would kill over a million people as it swept across Europe, and anarchists, political terrorists who cast their “votes” with bombs and assassinations.

Whew! What an incredible era – what amazing people these Victorians were! With so much history, mystery, and science in place, all the cast of characters needed was a good murder mystery to get the pot – or plot – boiling.

That came when I read Nellie’s own account about how she couldn’t get a job as a New York reporter because Joseph Pulitzer and all the other publishers felt it was “no job for a lady.” To prove that she could do the job, she got herself committed to the notorious women’s madhouse on Blackwell’s Island, convincing police, three psychiatrists and a judge she was hopelessly insane. She spent ten days in the madhouse and wrote an exposĂ© that shocked New York– and got her the job. She wrote a book about her time in the asylum, but failed to mention the murder mystery she got entangled in that sent her off to London and Paris to solve the crime of the century.

Page 69 is part of a scene with Dr. Pasteur and Brouardel, a medical doctor, who lock horns over the cause of “Black Fever,” a mysterious malady killing people. The paragraph I’ve drawn from shows not only the friction between Pasteur, who finally proved that “germs” caused many diseases, and medical doctors, who Pasteur accused of spreading germs by not washing their hands, but also the state of Victorian science and technology. It was an exciting era in which new discoveries were being made almost every day.
The fact that Pasteur had not acquiesced to the causation Brouardel opined to the city’s newspapers infuriated the director even more than his customary intolerance toward Pasteur. But it wasn’t just Brouardel who held ill will toward Pasteur – medical practitioners resented the fact that people believed Pasteur was a medical doctor. In fact, he was a chemist. They were also infuriated at Pasteur’s accusation that doctors spread infection from one patient to another by their failure to sanitize their hands and instruments.
Having Pasteur help Nellie solve the mystery that began in the madhouse was especially meaningful to me. While I should be grateful for the “pasteurization” that makes milk and other drinks safe, I am more thankful for his rabies cure because I was bitten by a rabid dog as a child.
View the video trailer for The Alchemy of Murder, and learn more about the book and author, at Carol McCleary's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue