Given that I am only attempting the ‘Miles’ level of the 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge which requires me to read six books written by Australian women in 2012 I might need to slow down a little. However, over New Year suffering with a cold how could I resist reading about the Spanish Flu that spread across the world in 1919 in the aftermath of the Great War? This is the second book (after Chris Womersley’s Bereft) that I’ve read that has as a background the experience of Australian soldiers returning from the war on another continent and the accompanying frenzy over the infection they may have brought with them. Here in Britain we have a fair amount of fiction set in the period but I was woefully unaware of the Australian experience until now.
The book has Eleanor Jones as its central character, a nurse who has experienced first hand the horrors of combat injuries and has returned to Melbourne to nurse the returning soldiers who are infected with the ‘Spanish Lady’ as the illness in known. Morwood has obviously done considerable research about the methods that were taken to stop the infection spreading and I thought these descriptions wonderful. Sitting by open windows, spacing seats further apart around a dinner table and wearing masks around the city seem a little inadequate by modern standards but show how fear of an epidemic infused everyday life. The mass hospitals that sprung up must have been a terrible place to work in, but of course an ideal setting for a murder.
The murder by arsenical poisoning of Brian Reddy a soldier with a cruel reputation both before and during war provides Eleanor with a means of distraction away from her haunted past. There are a number of people who may have had contact with Reddy in a previous context and as Eleanor investigates the murder, a few wrong turns are made until the culprit identified.
I liked the book a lot. It was well written and full of period detail. I would have preferred the investigation into the murder to have been a bit more complex as I guessed the culprit early on in the book which is unusual for me these days. There are multiple points of view in the narrative which was extremely confusing to begin with but as I settled down into the book grew to like. An excellent start to the 2012 AWW challenge. Maybe I need to move myself up a level if I carry on at this pace.