Friday, October 5, 2012

Quarantine by John Smolens

An eloquent and dramatic portrait of a city plagued by mysterious pestilence—as the isolation of the quarantine reveals the darker side of human nature.

The year is 1796, and a trading ship arrives in the vibrant trading town of Newburyport, Massachusetts.  But it's a ghost ship--her entire crew has been decimated by a virulent fever which sweeps through the harbor town, and Newburyport's residents start to fall ill and die with alarming haste.   Something has to be done to stop the virus from spreading further.  When physician Giles Wiggins places the port under quarantine, he earns the ire of his shipbuilder half-brother, the wealthy and powerful Enoch Sumner, and their eccentric mother, Miranda. Defiantly, Giles sets up a pest-house, where the afflicted might be cared for and separated from the rest of the populace in an attempt to contain the epidemic. 

As the seaport descends into panic, religious fervor, and mob rule, bizarre occurrences ensue:  the harbormaster’s family falls victim to the fever, except for his son, Leander Hatch, who is taken in at the Sumner mansion and a young woman, Marie Montpelier, is fished out of the Merrimac River barely clinging to life, causing Giles and Enoch—who is convinced she’s the expatriate daughter of the French king—to vie for her attentions--all while medical supplies are pillaged by a black marketer from Boston.  As the epidemic grows, fear, greed, and unhinged obsession threaten the Sumner family—and the future of Newburyport itself.

In 1796, The Miranda is a ship that lies waiting off the coast of Newburyport, Massachusetts with a deadly disease on board. When the harbormaster and doctor row out to the ship and board it, they discover the captain is dead along with numerous crew members. Those on board, are ordered to remain there, fly the yellow flag warning of quarantine and disease, and are denied permission to come ashore. Despite the orders, in the middle of the night, crew members sneak off the ship and enter the town.

Within days, the deadly disease spreads throughout Newbury and outlying areas. Numerous lives are lost as people succumb to the disease. Medication becomes scarce as unscrupulous men hoard, steal, and try to sell the remedy at horrendous profits. Meanwhile, the disease spreads at an alarming rate. The quarantine extends to the port and all ships are banned from landing. Soon, food and supplies within the town become scarce, adding to the hardships faced because of the deadly virus. The village is soon devastated with fires, illness, and hunger.  

There are numerous colorful and intriguing characters in the story, some with good motives, and some with bad. Regardless, they are all fascinating and multi-dimensional. As the disease spreads, so does the tension in the novel. With each chapter comes more tension and more urgency as families are separated and tents are set up to separate those who are ill from those who are not.

The author has done a great deal of research into the era, its medical practices, and social norms. He has skillfully weaved this into a compelling thriller that definitely held my attention to the very end! Highly recommended. 

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