“Break Bone Fever — A Finnerty and Liccione Mystery,” by Drs. Mary Rae & Wanda Venters, Written Dreams Publishing, 2021, 260 pages, $22.99
Galveston Island has a fascinating history, a unique ecology of beaches and wetlands and a colorful ambiance that lends itself to intrigue — and a murder mystery.
“Break Bone Fever” opens with the body of Dr. Gennifer Drake washing up on a foggy beach on Galveston Island. Shocked by her death, Dr. Louise Finnerty, an emergency medicine physician, and Dr. Marnie Liccione, a recently widowed pediatrician, plunge into the murder investigation of their friend and medical school classmate.
Drake had been researching a deadly new form of dengue fever at a top-security national laboratory. Aided by climate change, this mosquito-borne illness, known as break bone fever for the excruciating pain it inflicts, is spreading northward and threatening the United States.
The two physician authors bring their amateur detectives to life. Reeling from the loss of her husband and still aimless after five months of grieving, Liccione is intent on uncovering the motive for Gen’s murder. Was Gen’s transgender status a factor? Finnerty finds herself drawn into the investigation despite feeling overwhelmed with the day-to-day demands of work and family.
With the help of a journalist at the Galveston newspaper and an unconventional police detective, Liccione and Finnerty learn that Gen’s murder is connected to a clandestine assault on research that sheds light on the very real threat of climate change. As they confront the growing movement of Q-Anon conspiracists and untangle the web of lies being propagated by a cabal inside the Environmental Protection Agency, they wander into dangerous territory. Getting closer to the truth and finding justice for Gen’s murderer leads them into a fight for their own lives.
Throughout the book, the reader will walk the historic streets of Galveston, experience the challenges of an emergency medicine physician, spend time on an offshore drilling rig and pay a visit to an ultra-high security research lab.
Newcomers to the area and those familiar with the 500-year history of Galveston Island will be interested in the references to pirates, gangsters, famous nightclubs, the fortunes made and lost in the “Wall Street of the South” and Galveston’s reinvention as a vibrant tourist destination. Although The Great Storm of 1900 isn’t given but a mention, the perseverance of the islanders in renewal and rebuilding after the many hurricanes throughout the centuries is well noted. A cast of minor characters with connections to Galveston’s past and present keep the plot moving while maintaining a focus on the local setting.
Although conceived before the COVID-19 pandemic began, “Break Bone Fever” was published as it continues to smolder. It reminds us that threats to our health and safety may come from unexpected sources at unexpected times.