Excerpt from Fever by Mary Beth Keane, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Fever by Mary Beth Keane X
Fever by Mary Beth Keane
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2013, 320 pages
    Mar 2014, 320 pages

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I'm sorry I left, she'd say to Alfred, who would be surprised to see her home so soon. But she wouldn't tell him what had happened, because how could she possibly explain to anyone about that boy, that baby? How could she begin? Thinking about him for a single second— the strong grip of his small hand, his belly, the happy swing of his leg on the chair when he bit into a piece of orange—any thought of him at all brought a roaring into her ears like she'd been plunged into the ocean with a weight tied around her foot.

No, she decided. No. She'd go home and try to forget and do as she'd always done, which was work hard and be thankful every day for her good health, her life.

March 24, 1907
Cook Accused of Giving Typhoid to New York's
Prominent Families
So Say Authorities Holding Her Prisoner
Sanitary Engineer Alleges She Communicates the
Disease to Others Although Immune Herself

(Staff) New York—The cook for a prominent Upper East Side family has been forcibly removed from her employment and quarantined in Willard Parker Hospital after sanitary engineer and medical investigator George A. Soper alleged that she has been passing Typhoid Fever through her cooking, though she manifests no signs of the disease herself. At the time of her capture she was cooking for one of the wealthiest families on Park Avenue. Dr. Soper further alleges that the daughter of the family was battling Typhoid Fever at the time the cook was apprehended, and has since succumbed to the disease.

Dr. Soper, the medical sleuth at the center of this case, put the pieces of this groundbreaking puzzle together after being called upon to investigate a Typhoid outbreak that occurred in Oyster Bay last summer. He identified the cook as an "asymptomatic carrier" of Typhoid Fever, which, in layman's terms, is a healthy-seeming person who passes a disease along without suffering any symptoms of said disease, and most likely without any knowledge of doing so. Dr. Soper has spent several months making his case to the Department of Health, and one source reports that there are many within that organization who are skeptical about the notion of a healthy carrier, despite the evidence.

It is Dr. Soper's belief that the woman poses a lifethreatening risk to all of those who eat the food she cooks,

and has been the cause of Typhoid outbreaks in almost every prominent family she's worked for going back at least five years, likely longer. The case of this human culture tube, as some would describe her, is attended to with more secrecy than any other this reporter has encountered in his career. It can only be assumed that authorities do not want to further embarrass those families who hired her and welcomed her into their homes. In response to a question on how rare this woman is to science, one doctor who asked to remain anonymous answered: "We just don't know."

The woman is rumored to be of fair complexion with a buxom figure and rosy cheeks. Whether she understands the charges piled against her is a matter of concern for the DOH. "We're talking about brand-new science," a senior health inspector explained. "If what Dr. Soper posits is true, then she is the first healthy carrier of Typhoid Fever discovered in North America."

The butler of the family who was the cook's most recent employer, and who gave his name only as "Francis," claims that the daughter's illness and death is nothing more than a tragic coincidence. He tells us that his own wife died of the illness several years back, and so have others he's known who never had any contact with the accused cook. He claims further that the cook was healthy and showed absolutely no sign of illness. "They took her like they would a common criminal," he said, showing visible signs of distress. "And for what? I don't believe what they've said about her." A female eyewitness to the cook's capture stated that "she fought with the strength of ten men, but they overpowered her."

This incredulity, authorities say, is a matter of education, and further denials from the woman may lead to her permanent quarantine. A nurse at Willard Parker, who asked that her name be withheld, says the accused woman at the center of this case is the picture of fury. She refuses meals, declines company, and walks back and forth like a caged animal. When asked if she believes what's been alleged about the woman, the nurse replied, "I myself don't understand it, but I think the woman should try to listen to them. She's not helping herself the way she is now."

Several leading doctors believe Typhoid bacilli are manufactured in the gallbladder, and a representative from the Department of Health states that if the accused woman does not submit to surgical removal of her gallbladder within the month, she will be transferred to North Brother Island in the East River, where she will remain segregated from society for an indefinite length of time.

When asked for his opinion of the case, Mr. Robert Abbott, a criminal attorney who practices in New York City, says that her situation strikes him as somewhat similar to that of Niall E. Joseph, whom Boston authorities have isolated upon suspicion of being a leper.

Excerpted from Fever by Mary Beth Keane. Copyright © 2013 by Mary Beth Keane. Excerpted by permission of Scribner. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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