Friday, April 3, 2015

Death and the Spanish Lady

The February 2015 issue of Boronia & The Basin Community News contains an article by David Doughty about the Spanish Flu - the influenza epidemic that occurred after the First World War. Many of the patients were treated in temporary hospitals, including one set up in the Exhibition Building, and photographs are included with the article.

Coincidentally I have just read a murder mystery by Carolyn Morwood set in Melbourne during the Spanish flu epidemic. Eleanor Jones, an army nurse recently returned from serving overseas, had experienced many horrors when treating patients injured during battle. Her two brothers had served in the army - one had died while the other was now suffering from shell shock. Her lover had also been killed. Arriving home safely Eleanor then nursed influenza patients in the temporary hospital now occupying the Exhibition Building. Many of the patients were also recovering from their war experiences. Nursing in these conditions was a strain for the medical staff but when one of the patients, who was thought to have recovered, is found dead a murder investigation begins. Eleanor is determined to find the truth when one of her friends is considered the main suspect.

The book provides a picture of Melbourne during the period immediately after the war. It is a city of fear - people go out only when necessary and they all wear masks. Entertainment centres are closed and people meet in groups only when absolutely necessary. It also shows how families were affected by the war. Many had lost family members who had died overseas but most of those who returned home were suffering  physically or mentally as the result of their experiences. The effects on men who stayed at home is also shown with Nick being the recipient of a collection of white feathers. The description of the use of the Exhibition Building as a hospital is another interesting aspect of the book. The work by organisation such as the Red Cross is also portrayed. Those who like mysteries and / or  are interested in this period of Melbourne's history will enjoy this book. A sequel to this book is Cyanide and Poppies.

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