Corridors of the Night
A William Monk novel by Anne Perry
Book review by Jules Brenner
Ballantine Books, released 9/15/15, 288 pp., $27.00
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From prolific British writer Anne Perry comes this nightmarish tale that stains scientific advancement with criminal immorality -- the sort of brew that tests the principles by which medical researchers reach for new cures. This case explores the consequences when two influential scientists ignore the Hippocratic Oath, the much heralded, "First, I will do no harm" (or words to that effect).

It's well after midnight in Victorian England when Hester Monk, wife of Commander William Monk of the Thames River Police, filling in for a fellow nurse at London's Royal Naval Hospital annex, notices a terrified, pale six-year-old girl pleading for Hester to come help her brother Charlie, whom she thinks is dying. Following the girl through dark corridors of a ward she didn't know existed, she is horrified to meet the girl's two brothers, Mike, 4 and the elder one, Charlie, "exhausted, gasping for breath."

This leads the nurse to the discovery that the three siblings have been used as blood banks by Magnus Rand, and doctor-brother Hamilton in an unrestrained pursuit of a cure for the deadly "White Blood disease" ravaging London.

Magnus, the primary force in the endeavor, with a twisted sense of propriety, "bought" the children from their indigent parents as though they were a pack of lab rats after discovering that their blood, for a reason he doesn't know, has the effect of slowing and, hopefully, curing his wealthy, notorious patient, Bryson Radnor.

The world of medicine has not yet discovered blood types and most transfusions at this time in medical history cause death. And, while Rand's transfusions improve his patient's condition, it's never implied that his work is leading him to that breakthrough.

And, never mind that he's killing the children with his blunt force treatment.

When Hester confronts Rand she finds a man with an obsession not just to save a patient... but all of England. He's on the cusp of a medical breakthrouh. He's also so (rightfully) impressed with her understanding and skillfulness that he orders this nurse who once worked with Florence Nightingale on the battle front to be his nurse for the experimental project.

Hester is as horrified by the man's callousness toward the under privileged as she is fascinated by the potentials of the experiment that might save hundreds or millions from the disease. But, then, moral ambiguity turns more threatening when she awakens from a drugged sleep in a place she doesn't recognize (bringing hubby William into the picture with his squad and all the investigative power at his disposal in a search for his missing wife!).

Perry formulates an intense drama with a heroine who is a model of humanity clashing with men of the privileged class who make no distinction between ethics and exploitation in a vainglorious attempt to pursue their aims. Her great detail and succinct manner helps to make this an engrossing read. It also teaches us a thing or two about the period, its societal norms and values, and the state of medical knowledge.

Despite her fine writing skill, the juggling of high-minded experimentation for the betterment of mankind with criminality and potential homicide is a lot to propose without inspiring some bending of credulity. One realizes it's a stretch by a writer determined to make a what-if scenario acceptable. That is, of course, what drama demands, but it does come with the impression of something devised.

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