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Archive for February, 2012

Ignaz Semmelweis

I am a great fan of Ignaz Semmelweis. I met him when researching my book on Hitler and his time in Vienna. I found the story compelling. Here was a physician who saw the obvious–not the easiest thing to do. Faced with mortality rates of 10 to 35% for women giving birth in the clinics of Vienna in the mid nineteenth century, he looked for reasons rather than excuses. These women died of what was called puerperal fever following childbirth. In fact, the Vienna General Hospital’s obstetric clinic had three times the mortality rate of the midwife’s ward.

Semmelweis, something of an outsider to Vienna at the time as a Hungarian practicing in Vienna, looked outside of the box. What was the difference here? Well, number one, many of the physicians working in the obstetric wards began their days performing autopsies and dissections in the morgue in the basement of the General Hospital. They were quite literally digging their hands into the viscera of dead bodies teaming with millions of bacteria. But of course at this time the germ theory had not yet been advanced. Bacteria was a word that awaited another century. But using simple empirical evidence, Semmelweis thought that perhaps there was a connection between those doctors dipping their hands into the open cavities of dead people, wiping them off on their soiled white jackets, and then proceeding to assist in the birth of babies, and the subsequent death of the mothers. He proposed a simple experiment: before proceeding to work on healthy individuals, doctors should wash their hands in a solution of lime and chlorine.

The mortality rate in birthing wards dropped dramatically to below 1%. (more…)

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British actor-turned novelist Linda Regan brings the mean streets of South London alive in two different procedural series. First in the series featuring Detective Chief Inspector Paul Banham and his assistant, DI Alison Grainger, Behind You, provides a “brutal murder mystery with touches of British cozy,” according to Booklist, whose reviewer went on to praise Regan’s “offbeat characters and forceful prose.” The second in the series, Passion Killers, also earned praise from Booklist, which noted that its “furious pace and taut suspense provide plenty of compensation for fans of edgy, hard-boiled fare.” Regan’s 2009 installment, Dead Like Her,won commendation from Publishers Weekly as a Marilyn Monroe pastiche whose “Marilyn link among the victims leads to some deft plot turns.” (more…)

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British music journalist Chris Nickson is the author of the Richard Nottingham books, historical mysteries set in Leeds in the 1730s and featuring Nottingham, the Constable of the city, and his deputy, John Sedgwick. As Nickson has said of his series: “The books are about more than murder. They’re about the people of Leeds and the way life was – which means full of grinding poverty for all but the wealthy. They’re also about families, Nottingham and his and Sedgwick, and the way relationships grow and change, as well as the politics, when there was one law for the rich, and another, much more brutal, for everyone else.”

Nickson’s debut, The Broken Token, earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly, which called it “impressive,” and further noted: “Nottingham and Sedgwick interview whores, pimps, and procurers in an effort to catch the lunatic who slays three couples in six days. Multiple threads of the case come together at the end in an unexpected and disturbing conclusion.” Second in the series, Cold Cruel Winter, appeared in 2011 and earned another starred review from Publishers Weekly as a “superb” novel. It also was named one of the ten best mysteries of that year by Library Journal. His third, The Constant Lovers, comes out in the spring from Severn House’s Crème de la Crime imprint. (more…)

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The Silence, the third novel in my Viennese Mysteries series, continues to earn kudos from reviewers. Library Journal, in a starred review, just called it an “intricately plotted, gracefully written, and totally immersive read,” while Kirkus Reviews, in its Februrary 1, 2012, edition, noted: “Jones’ measured, stately prose is perfectly in tune with his period setting and his hero’s intense intellectual curiosity. … His intricate plot unfolds with suspense and style.” My publishers have just contracted for the fourth in the series, due out next year.

Sorry for the horn-tooting, but to celebrate, I post here some of the unused portions of an extensive interview I did with Big Thrill contributor and author Gary Kriss:

Your novels can be seen as “place paradigms.” Can you explain the difference, if any, between setting and place? Further, could you explain the “place of place” in novels and, particularly, in thriller novels.

Well, the classic distinction is that setting is bigger than mere place or location; in addition,  it includes time in its broadest and narrowest senses, and even the weather. My Vienna novels are certainly heavily dependent on setting. It’s not just Vienna that is at the center of things, but that amazing, bubbling, schizophrenic place (at once revolutionary and stodgy) that is Vienna 1900. And the “place of place” or of setting in my fiction–absolutely central. From years of living in the city and from further years of researching the turn of the twentieth century in Vienna, I attempt a bit of time travel in each of the novels. I am in the time and place. I surround myself with visuals of Vienna 1900, listen to its music while I write, read the words of fiction and nonfiction writers of the time, keep a timeline of historical happenings handy. I personally like thrillers where the spirit of place is at work, as with Alan Furst. But the best of Le Carre depends on his pitch-perfect dialogue and very fallible characters. Lots of ways to skin that cat. (more…)

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