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In 1176, King Henry the II of England persuades the physician Adelia Aguilar to accompany his daughter, Princess Joanna, on her long journey from England to marry the King of Sicily. Adelia studied medicine in Salerno, but in the disbelieving, intolerant world of Northern Europe, she must hide her skills. She masquerades as the assistant of her own eunuch assistant, the Arab Mansur. Her task is to protect and preserve the health of the princess. The King convinces her to make the journey by holding Adelia’s own infant daughter as a hostage.
The procession is troubled by a murderer, who could be trying to attack the princess or her doctor. Joanna falls ill, and Adelia diagnoses appendicitis, and then performs an operation to save her life. The question then arises whether or not her future husband will accept a bride with a surgical scar.
As in the other three novels, Adelia also uses her medical skills to solve the murders—a forensic pathologist avant la lettre.
Two novellas are brought together. In the first, “Storm in June,” a host of people flee Paris in June 1941- -as the Germans occupied the city. They gather their money and most precious belongings and leave their homes, reasoning that there will be more safety in the countryside. But everyone has the same idea. The crush results in shortages of fuel, food and accommodation that radiate in ever widening ripples around the city. Many are duped by employers or by lovers. Some are robbed and even murdered by unscrupulous fellow citizens, and new conventions of behavior and bureaucracy are forged in the stress of the situation. The fortunes of several different individuals are interwoven in short chapters to explore a wide variety of adventures--tragic, miraculous, and poignantly banal. Among the most memorable is the little saga of the Michaud’s – a couple driven out of Paris, then back – all the while anxious for news of their son at the front.
The second novella, “Dolce,” is the story of the unhappily married Lucile whose husband has gone to the front. She must bide time in the home of her austere mother-in-law, Madame Angellier, who treats her with frank hostility. They are forced to billet a German officer. Lucile soon finds that she and the German share many interests in art and music; gradually the two fall in love, although they act upon their sentiments in conversation only. The full extent of their involvement must be concealed, but the community is aware and Lucile understands the potential consequences of “sleeping with the enemy.” Her mother-in-law hates her all the more for growing close to the occupier; yet their neighbours shamelessly prevail upon her connections to obtain minor favors.
When a local Frenchman kills a German soldier for allegedly courting his wife, the uneasy calm is destabilized. Almost by default, Lucile agrees to hide the fugitive murderer in her attic in bold proximity to her German tenant. The brave act is discovered by her mother-in-law who then (wrongly) perceives Lucile’s friendship with the German as a clever plot; her hatred turns to grudging admiration. Using her influence and a lie to obtain a pass from her unsuspecting German friend, Lucile escorts the ungrateful murderer to safety in Paris. The deception drives a wedge into her new relationship. They part never to meet again as his company is transferred to another place.
The wealthy financier, John William Stone, is found dead beneath the window of his home, having fallen, jumped, or been pushed. The will charges his widow, Elizabeth Lady Ravenscliff, with finding Stone’s lost child. She had known nothing about this episode in his life, but she is determined to honour his wish.
The story centers on a financial mystery told in three parts that move further back in time: London 1909, Paris 1890, and Venice 1867. Each story gives a different version of Elizabeth – none refutes any of the others.
In the first part, Elizabeth is cool, superior and in charge, but her grief is genuine. She hires Matthew Braddock to look for the missing child, suggesting that he pose as a hired biographer. The writer is smitten with Elizabeth and concludes that there was no lost child.
The second part is narrated by a spy, Henry Cort. In this version, Elizabeth began as a waif who became a high-class prostitute, involved in affairs of state. Addicted to drugs, she was dangerous and selfish, but Cort never realizes that she is his sister.
The last (but earliest) part is told by Stone himself about an affair he once had in Venice and its sorry end. The last few pages draw the disparate threads together and account cleverly for all the mysteries.
In 1543—the time of Henry VIII-Matthew Shardlake a hunchback lawyer, and his Jewish assistant, Barak, strive to solve a string of murders that, they quickly realize, are based on the seven vials in the Book of Revelation (chapter 16). They can almost predict when the next death will happen.
Barak is having trouble with his wife owing to a recent stillbirth that has deeply affected them both and driven them apart. Shardlake’s friend, Guy Malton, a Spanish-moorish physician acts as a medical consultant to their investigation. They encounter a boy and a woman both confined in Bethelham Hospital, the asylum known as Bedlam. A diagnostic dilemma arises over a problem of religious melancholy versus demonic possession.
Zol Szabo, is public health doctor for the Hamilton Ontario region. He is also a single parent to nine year-old, Max, because his wife could not deal with Max’s mild physical disability. He is dating Colleen an attractive woman detective whom he met in the previous novel. The story opens with Zol’s angst over his son’s expensive misuse of a cell phone that he’d been given for safety reasons.
Soon he and his team are investigating cases of diarrhea in a seniors’ residence. The diagnosis is difficult—but the doctors are confident they know what it is; however, the recommended treatments prove ineffective. Gradually they begin to suspect that the drugs are not working because they might be fake. Even worse, they notice that the people infected are all taking the same arthritis medicine—could that drug be the source of the infection?
In the background an unbending hospital administration and a hostile boss make the situation even worse.
A team of elderly friends who reside in the senior’s home collaborate to help solve the mystery. And of course the son’s cell phone is crucial to the dramatic conclusion.
In this tale, told by an aging Silvio, Jean the miller dies mysteriously in the river at his mill leaving his young wife, Colette, and a little boy. Was it suicide or murder – and why? Colette is the daughter of Helene Coudray, a woman Silvio once loved and still admires deeply, although she married François. They remain good friends.
Silvio is also friendly with Brigitte. She is known to all as the adopted daughter of Helene’s late unmarried sister, Cecile. Brigitte married a much older landowner who dies, leaving her well off, and free to marry handsome young Marc Ohnet. But news of the engagement devastates Colette. Suddenly it is clear that her child was Marc’s– and that it was Marc who killed Jean, possibly by accident. Colette’s angry father wants to press charges against Marc for killing his son-in-law. But Brigitte reveals that she is the biological daughter of Helene and Silvio; Marc is to become another son-in-law.
The apparently worthy Helene has deceived both her husband and her old lover, Silvio, by concealing Brigitte’s existence and identity. She also abused the goodwill of her sister who cared for her child.
During World War II, a man is found beaten and unconscious in the streets of Trieste and brought to a German hospital ship. The Finnish-born doctor serving the German naval forces recognizes the name on his uniform as that of a vessal originating in Helsinki, the “Sampo Karjalainen." When the man wakes up, he has total amnesia; his memory loss has extended to language. In a crazy gesture of compassion, the doctor arranges for the man to be conveyed across war-torn Europe and home to Helsinki to be tended by a specialist. The doctor hopes that exposure to his homeland, its culture, and especially its language, will help the recovery of the man now called Sampo. They never see each other again.
Isolated and confused, Sampo, is given a bed in an empty visitors' ward of the hospital. The much awaited specialist never appears and Sampo never understands why. His closest friend is a tippling priest who teaches him Finnish through a reading of the Kalevala legends, libated with shots of Kosenkorva. He befriends some Russians who are housed briefly in his ward and he contemplates the hostilities between the nations. He wanders the city of Helsinki looking for triggers that may hand him back his identity – his past, a narrative. One of the nurses takes an interest in his case, shows him a special memory tree in a Helsinki park – and accepts his rejection of her affection with good grace. She is transferred to another place, but writes to him. He is unable to respond. She is angry.
In desperation Sampo joins the Finnish army and leaves for the eastern front. An epilogue tracks his demise and the doctor’s later discovery of his massive error.
Summary:Haunted by his past actions and wartime experiences, the narrator empties his soul to a silent stranger - a woman sitting and drinking with him at a bar in Lisbon. He tells her about his participation in the colonial war between Portugal and Angola in the early 1970's. He admits to the conflict that still rages inside him. Six years earlier, as a physician in his twenties, he was drafted and shipped 6,000 kilometers from home for a slightly more than two year stint as an army doctor. He left behind a pregnant wife.
In this autobiographical novel, written while the author was under severe mental strain and as she recovered from psychotic breakdown, Head tracks the protagonist Elizabeth’s struggle to emerge from the oppressive social situation in which she finds herself, and from the nightmares and hallucinations that torment her. Elizabeth, like Bessie Head, was conceived in an out-of-wedlock union between a white woman of social standing, and a black man--a union outlawed by her country of birth, South Africa.
Like the author, Elizabeth leaves South Africa with her young son--but without her husband, from whom she is fleeing--to live in neighboring Botswana, a country that has escaped some of the worst evils of colonial domination. But in rural Botswana she is once again faced with a constricting social system as the African villagers are suspicious of her urban ways and frown upon her individualistic behavior. Further, they bear her ill will on racial grounds because she is light skinned like the "bushmen" who are a despised tribe there.
Elizabeth suffers not only social isolation but intellectual deprivation as well. One of the few people with whom she can converse as an intellectual equal is the American peace corps volunteer, Tom, who acknowledges that "men don’t really discuss the deep metaphysical profundities with women" (24). During the four years in which Elizabeth is plagued by tribal suspiciousness, terrifying dreams, economic hardships, and two hospitalizations for mental breakdown, it is Tom, and her own love for and obligation to her young son that help her to survive this ordeal.