My guest is J. L Greger today:
The key questions in any newspaper article are how, what, when, why, and how. In most murder investigations, the how and what questions are answered when a dead body with bullet holes or stab wounds is found. Accordingly, most murder mysteries address the questions of who and why.
How becomes a key question in medical mysteries.
The question of how becomes important when a poison is used to kill one or more individuals. In my new mystery FAIR COMPROMISES, twenty resident in New Mexico come into clinics and doctors’ offices complaining of double or blurred vision, sagging eyelids, and headaches the day after a political rally. Public health workers quickly hypothesize the cause was botulism toxin in improperly home canned food served at the rally.
There’s just one problem. One individual’s symptoms are much more severe. She is suffering paralysis of her arms and legs and having trouble breathing. New Mexico health officials contact the FBI because that patient is a candidate for the U.S. Senate and they fear she may have been targeted. Moreover, the available botulinum antitoxin can prevent worsening of symptoms but cannot repair nerves damaged by the toxin. The Senate candidate is apt to die or be permanently disabled.
The mystery turns from being the analysis of a severe food safety breach to the investigation of a diabolical murder attempt using “cosmetic” botulism toxin when scientist Sara Almquist with the help of a talented FBI lab crew discover a more sinister source of the toxin at a health and beauty spa in Santa Fe.
A little science is needed to explain the how in this mystery.
Scientists have known for a hundred years that a bacteria (Clostridium botulinum) could grow in improperly canned vegetables and meats and produce a poison that was lethal. However, this bacteria was sensitive to acid and didn’t produce the toxin in acidic canned tomatoes and fruits. Despite the education efforts of Cooperative Extension agents, a few home canners have continued not to use pressure cookers when canning non-acidic vegetables and have killed their relatives.
In the 1980 and 1990s, physcians discovered they could cure certain neurological conditions by injecting tiny amount amounts of botulinum toxin into spasmed muscles of patients. Scientists also figured out tiny injections of botulinum toxin would prevent the muscles contractions that caused crow’s feet around the eyes and worry wrinkles on the forehead. Thus a whole new cosmetic product line (BOTOX and other botulinum toxin products) was discovered.
Back to FAIR COMPROMISES.
After the how is answered, Sara and her FBI colleagues must discover the who and why in this mystery. It’s not easy. The villain or villains are clever and ruthless.
Sara Almquist and her FBI colleagues rush to find who endangered the lives of a hundred attendees at a political rally by poisoning the food with botulism toxin. The poisoners’ target was a woman candidate for the U.S. Senate; the rest were just collateral damage. As these agents track clues from a veterans’ hall in Clovis, New Mexico to health spas in Santa Fe, they must make a multitude of personal and professional (perhaps too many) compromises.
FAIR COMPROMISES is available at: https://www.amazon.com/Fair-Compromises-Science-Traveler-Greger/dp/1735421421
Bio: J.L. Greger is a scientist turned novelist. She includes tidbits of science in her award-winning mysteries and thrillers: The Flu Is Coming, Malignancy, Games for Couples, Dirty Holy Water, Fair Compromises, and six others. https://www.jlgreger.com