“Three Good Leads” by Richard Cunningham, Cunningham Studios, 2020, 323 pages, $17
It's September 1918. Donald Brown is a photographer in Houston. His close friend Clara Barnes is a nursing student at John Sealy Hospital in Galveston.
"Three Good Leads," by Richard Cunningham, is their story, which unfolds as World War I is approaching its climax and the Spanish influenza is sweeping the world — and the Texas Gulf Coast.
Orphaned by the 1900 Storm, Donald was adopted by a white family living in Freedman’s Town in Houston’s Fourth Ward. He picked up photography and become a freelance photographer, selling photographs to local newspapers.
In 'Three Good Leads," Donald has made a name for himself through photographs he took to accompany a series on the effects of the influenza plague sweeping through Houston written by reporter and mentor Clifford Murray.
Donald awaits induction into the Army, while Clara is a semester away from graduating with her nursing degree from John Sealy. Her ambition is to be a doctor, but women doctors are unusual enough to make that dream seem impossible.
When four volunteers are sought from her classmates to run a temporary overflow ward for “coloreds," she volunteers. It's an opportunity to gain hands-on experience and get away from an incompetent and tyrannical instructor who was brought out of retirement because the good doctors are all serving the Army.
“Three Good Leads” follows Donald and Clara and their compatriots through the next few months. Clara is put in charge of the colored ward because she was the first to volunteer when the doctor who was supposed to supervise fled the influenza to Fredericksburg. She's faced with setting up the ward in an abandoned saddle factory with inadequate supplies and no help beyond the other three nursing students.
Donald is burned out of his home by an arsonist angry at his influenza photos, which hurt Galveston’s tourist trade. He ends up helping Clara set up the influenza ward.
“Three Good Leads” is fast-paced, exciting and accurate, and it captures the spirit of 1918 Galveston and Houston in an entertaining and captivating story.