In my Will Rees mysteries, he meets people who are ill with tuberculosis several times. The frequency of deaths from this disease in my fiction in not an accident. It was an epidemic and still has not been eradicated. In 2017, there were more than 10 million cases of active TB which resulted in 1.6 million deaths; it is therefore the number one cause of death from an infectious disease. Most of these deaths, and most of the new infections, occur in the developing world.
I was mostly familiar with TB as ‘consumption’, a disease that afflicted Victorian poets. Although TB was common in both the poets, the upper classes and the slum-dwellers, it was not a new disease during Victorian times. It has been around for millennia. Bison remains from 17,000 years ago display the effects of the disease. (No one is sure if TB jumped to humans from the bovine like smallpox or whether it developed independently.) TB scars have been found on Neolithic skeletons and on the spines of Egyptian mummies.
So, it has been around a very long time. Despite that, it was not identified as a single disease until 1820 and the bacillus that caused it was not discovered until 1882 (by Robert Koch. He received the Nobel prize but failed to recognize that one of the transmissions of TB was via infected milk.)
Before the advent of antibiotics, and even with the best care in the sanatoriums set up for this purpose, 50% of the patients died within five years. In 1815, one in four died of the illness in England.
Antibiotics beat back the disease, but new drug resistant strains raise the possibility of a new epidemic. Even now, in modern times, about one quarter of the world’s population is infected with TB.
As Rees investigates murders, he invariably meets people who are ill. Illness and death was a constant companion. Illnesses: measles, mumps, diphtheria carried off infants and children; about one in five. Tuberculosis was epidemic. Women succumbed to childbirth. Simple accidents caused death, if not by the accident itself by sepsis.
Diseases we think of as modern, such as cancer or diabetes were present but not identified by name.
How do we know diabetes existed. About 3000 years ago the Egyptians described an illness with excessive thirst, urination and weight loss, the symptoms of Type I diabetes. In India they discovered they could use ants to detect the disease because the ants were drawn to the sweetness. And the Greeks called the disease diabetes mellitus ; diabetes for siphon or pass through and mellitus for sweet.
Early treatments included a diet of whole grains, milk and starchy foods, rancid animal meat, veal and mutton, green vegetables. Other treatments recommended exercising, reducing stress, wearing flannel – seriously. As one might expect, the true causes of Diabetes and possible treatments were not identified until modern times. In 1889, Joseph von Mering and Oskar Minkowski found that removing the pancreas from dogs led them to develop diabetes. In 1910 Sir Edward Albert Sharpey-Schafer named the missing chemical, without which the body could not survive, insulin. That means island because the cells in the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas produce it.
The first human subject took an insulin injection in 1922. So, although this illness has been with us a long time, its identification and the treatment is recent.
Why am I so interested in diabetes? Read Simply Dead and find out.
Simply Dead is set against the mountains and the lumbering industry in Maine.
In the spring, logging camps were set up in the woods and the massive trees were cut down with nothing more than human sweat and axes. Lumber was important for building, yes, but this was also the era of sailing ships and tall masts were a requirement.
The loggers would ‘drive’ the logs down one of the many rivers to Falmouth. The men would ‘roll’ the logs down the rivers by standing on them. I describe this more fully in my book. The lumber drive would end in Falmouth with a celebration. (I’ll bet. Talk about dangerous work!)
Paul Bunyan and his blue ox are part of the American myth and he is based on the real lumber men. In Bangor there is a statue of Paul Bunyan.
Demonstrations of log rolling are a feature of some of the Maine shows.
I have arranged a giveaway on The Shaker Murders.
I am hoping to prepare readers for my newest book, Simply Dead, which will come out August 1. The giveaway will begin June 7.
In the depths of winter, with a blizzard coming on, the constable Simon Rouge asks Rees for his help in finding his niece Hortense. Her cart had been found abandoned on the road and now she had been missing for almost two weeks.
The search for Hortense, and the unraveling of the secrets behind her abduction, lead Rees into the mountains of Maine.
Other murders, including the deaths of two Shaker Sisters, occur before Rees finally unmasks the killer.
While we were in Costa Rica we stopped at a chocolate plantation. I’m sure everyone know the story; how a chocolate drink was served to the Spanish conquistadores and from there went on to become one of the most popular foods in the world.
Cocoa pods on a tree.
The seeds inside are coated in a sweet jelly like substance. That has to be taken off.
Once the jelly like substance is removed, the beans are fermented. After fermentation, the beans are dried.
Then the beans are cleaned and roasted. The shell is removed. The tool used to do that at this plantation was a large mortar with a pestle to crush the shell.
The inner seeds, the cacao nibs, are then ground to cocoa mass, unadulterated chocolate in rough form.
These nibs are heated and reduced to a liquid. Adding sugar, cinnamon, nuts and more -yum.
The higher the amount of the chocolate (you will see 70% for bittersweet for example) the stronger the chocolate flavor.
I attended Malice this past weekend and what a great conference – from Victoria Thompson to Parnell Hall to the panels.
I have to give a shout out to my great panel mates. This was truly one of the best I have been on.
From left to right: Maureen Jennings, Verena Rose, Mariah Fredericks, S.C. Perkins, me, Jess Montgomery.
All very insightful and articulate ladies.
I also really enjoyed my conversation with Maureen Jennings at the signings.
While on our vacation to Costa Rica, we went to a coffee plantation. As anyone who has read my books knows, Rees is a big coffee drinker. Then coffee was even more of a luxury good.
Coffee us reputed to have been discovered by a shepherd who noticed his sheep and goats were more energetic once they ate these beans. From Africa, coffee went to the Arabs who discovered roasting and made a drink from them. They went to Italy and France, to the rest of Europe, and then to Central America in the 1700s. In Costa Rica coffee is known as the gold grain because it became such a huge part of their economy.
Two seedlings are planted per hole to maximize yield.
Pretty white flowers bloom on the bushes before the berries form.
Picking coffee has to be done by hand since a coffee bush will have both green and red berries on it. A basket is attached to the picker’s waist and they walk around picking.
The the coffee has to be dried and roasted before blending into the drink most of us have every morning.