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Monday, April 26, 2010

The First Horseman by John Case

The First Horseman by John Case

Because I had a great Grandmother, Noda Miller Lamb, and 2 of her daughters to die in the great Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918-1919, I've always been interested in it. I read a great non-fiction book about it, The Great Influenza, The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague In History by John M. Barry, which taught me a lot about that deadly flu virus. One day, at a book sale, I came across this novel about the Spanish Flu and picked it up. I finally pulled it out of my TBR (To Be Read) pile and started it this weekend. It was a great mystery/thriller that I couldn't put down.

Due to some bad language (enough to make me uncomfortable but not enough to be a constant) and a non-bloody torture scene near the end, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone under 16 yrs old. But I highly recommend it to anyone over 16. It's one of those kind of books I love... it gets you into the story and you are learning history without realizing it. From what I had read before, everything they said about the Spanish Flu in this fiction novel was correct. The only thing I had never heard of was gangrenous genitalia as one of the infrequent characteristics of the infection. But it was true about people catching it and dying so quickly and the millions of people who died from it world wide. It was one, if not the largest, world wide pandemic, biological crises our world has ever faced. And it would make a natural theme in all kinds of novels from disasters, thrillers, mysteries, dramas, historical fiction, etc. I don't know why it's been virtually forgotten by our schools. But it is something that can and probably will happen again which was why everyone got so crazy about the Bird Flu and the H1N1 Flu.

I recommend you check my posts on the Spanish Flu,

Washington Post reporter, Frank Daly, has taken a year on a Johnson Fellowship to write about scary viruses. He develops a relationship with Annie Adair, a Ph.D at Georgetown University. She and her mentor, Dr. Benton Kicklighter, had made a proposed grant to got to Kopervik, Norway on the Svalbard Archipelago. It seems that this area had been one of those arctic places that hadn't been claimed by any country until 1939. There were coal deposits on this archipelago and some countries sent men into the area to start coal mines in order to put a claim on the archipelago. Norway was one of those countries and, in 1939, won the Svalbard Archipelago, at which, they closed down the coal mine because it was too expensive to mine in such an inhospitable place. The Norwegian mining camp, complete with a tiny Lutheran church and graveyard, was abandoned.

Now, it's 1998 and a North Korean survivor has managed to cross No Man's Land into South Korea with a story about an epidemic that hit his village and how the N. Korean authorities bombed the village into oblivion and bulldozed it and deny it was ever there. According to this survivor, it sounds like the villagers were suffering from the Spanish Flu. Have the N. Koreans been testing it as a biological weapon? If so, how did they get it?

You see, back in 1918-1919, they didn't have a microscope that could see the flu virus so they didn't know what the virus looked like or how it worked. None of the original virus survived and our scientists today would love to get a look at it and do tests with it. According to this book, 5 Norwegian miners died of the Spanish Flue and were buried in the permafrost in the graveyard behind the little Lutheran church on Svalbard Archipelago. Using dynamite, they would bury their dead 3 feet down to protect them from the polar bears. Annie Adair and Dr. Kicklightener think it's possible that the bodies have been frozen since they died and would therefore have some viable Spanish Flu viruses.

The US government makes sure their expedition is funded (without telling them the real reason) and sends Annie and Benton to Svalbard Archipelago. Reporter Frank Daly is invited to go along but he misses the boat, literally. When they come back, Annie and Benton aren't talking and Frank sniffs a story.

A true investigating reporter, he is persistent and resourceful. He begins working on his own to discover what happened on that archipelago and why is he getting the run around. When the threats start coming, he knows he's on the right trail but it gets more and more dangerous for Frank and Annie and, without realizing it, they are set to stop an apocalypse!

This book was great!

"Epstein picked up the theme. 'I was just going over the numbers last week,' he said. 'Look at New York: they've got fifty-six 911 receiving hospitals-eight thousand beds. That's it! or almost it: they've also got a couple of decon vans - two - each of which can handle - what? Maybe three people an hour.' He paused. 'A biological attack on NewYork, or any city, would be... unrecoverable.' pg 37

"'Okay. Let me put it this way,' Karalekis said. 'In the fall of 1918 the Spanish flu killed more than half a million Americans. That's more than died in the two World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam put together. And it happened in four months.'
'What about the plague?' Fitch asked. 'That had to be worse.'
Karalekis rocked from side to side, weighing the proposition. 'Maybe. But the plague took twenty years to do what it did. The Spanish flu killed twenty or thirty million people in twelve months.'" pg 37
(That figure may be on the low side as I've heard it could be as high as 50-100 million people. It got hard to count on a world wide basis since it was during WWI and a lot of 3rd world countries who basically stacked and burned bodies without a good count.)

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