Operation Wormwood: The Reckoning, by Helen C. Escott

Eight stars

Picking up the action where the series debut ended, Helen C. Escott delivers another stunning novel. Hitting on some disturbing themes with a medical twist right here in Canada, Escott will have the reader riveted throughout the experience as Operation Wormwood continues to baffle many in Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as around the world. While Dr. Luke Gillespie is responsible for a unit treating a number of patients with ‘Wormwood’, a mysterious illness that seems only to target those with a past in pedophilia, he soon discovers that the criteria for sickness has expanded. Sergeant Nicholas Myra of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary is feeling the pressure to bring an end to things and capture those responsible for heinous crimes, as well as determine how Wormwood is targeting them, not yet ready to believe this is a plague of God. While both men work mercilessly in their own way, others are lurking in the shadows and continue to cause havoc, creating new and unseen issues. Escott has outdone herself yet again with this piece and continues to bring a unique Canadian perspective.

After a series of mysterious symptoms brought many flocking to seek medical attention, Dr. Luke Gillespie discovered an odd commonality. All those with unstopping bleeding noses, bitter tastes in their mouths, and rapid deterioration have histories as pedophiles. What’s even more baffling is that it is not solely around St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, but rather across Canada and soon in all corners of the world. The hype has turned this into some ‘plague by God’, nicknamed Wormwood from a passage in the Bible. Whatever it is, Dr. Gillespie and his staff are completely baffled.

This extends to Sergeant Nicholas Myra of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, who must stop those who are committing the crimes, while also try to find the root of the illness, which must be trigger by someone or something. Myra’s stress is high and he’s put on leave after a clash with one of his superiors, only to continue working the case from home. Who is leaking list of known offenders and who are only those responsible getting sick?

Myra’s determination has earned him a number of enemies over the years, including those who have been under scrutiny as part of the Wormwood investigation. When someone he values becomes the target of retribution, Myra cannot handle the fallout and chooses to begin his own vendetta, all while trying to keep his team focussed on finding who might be responsible for the poisonings that lead to slow and painful deaths.

After some toxicology reports come back with a clue, it’s possible that there are a list of suspects close at hand, but it will take some great police work and determination not to tip their hands too soon. If it is not God who is bringing Wormwood to those who are vile, could his soldiers on earth be part of the process? If so, how? Myra and Gillespie will have to work together in their own way to find answers as the epidemic spreads, with a larger victim base. A chilling story that never slows throughout. Helen C. Escott knows what she’s doing and can keep the reader engrossed until the final page.

While Helen C. Escott asked me to read her first novel, which happened to be the debut in this series, I readily rushed to get the next one quickly. I could not get enough of the Canadian themes, great writing, and powerful plot twists that emerged throughout. This novel followed suit and kept me wanting to know more as I found myself devouring the story in short order. There is something about her writing that is honest, yet unique, which I soon discovered was partially because she writes based on real people and the experiences they have brought to her. While set in Canada’s easternmost province, the story can resonate for any reader and hold their attention with ease.

The Sergeant Nicholas Myra-Dr. Luke Gillespie dual protagonist role is back and continues to work effectively. These men are respective in their fields and work hard to couture to grips with what is taking place. Myra is riddled with stress and guilt, as well as being married to the job, which cost him his wife. Gillespie struggles with what he sees daily on the ward, baffled as to how targeted the outbreak appears to be. Both work tirelessly for answers, which come piecemeal and opens new doors along the way. Their development is quite different, but will surely prove intriguing to the attentive reader.

While never the most upbeat subject matter, I never said that I was one to flock towards sunny stories. Escott does well with a difficult subject, turning things on their head in the most baffling way. She weaves a tale of depravity and those who seek to rectify it, while added elements of mystery throughout. The narrative flowed really well, keeping the momentum going throughout the piece, while they lot took some interesting turns and left me wondering how things might resolve themselves by the end. With some tense moments and subject matter that left me feeling a tad awkward, Escott delivered and brought some needed resolution to the story she penned as the series debut. I hope others will read both books and come up with some views of their own, as I look for more Escott to whet my appetite for this type of writing.

Kudos, Madam Escott, for another winner. You don’t shy away from the tense parts of society, but deliver a balanced and well-paced story to allow readers to digest it all in stages.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Operation Vanished, by Helen C. Escott

Nine stars

After loving Helen C. Escott’s debut novel about policing in Newfoundland and Labrador, I could not wait to get my hands on this second piece. Set again on The Rock, Escott takes readers into a darker and oft-forgotten side of missing person inquiries from yesteryear. After spending a decade working for the RCMP elsewhere, Constable Gail McNaughton has returned home to work in St. John’s. Trying to fill her father’s shoes, Gail is assigned the daunting task of looking into a number of missing persons cases fro mother 1950s, all having long gone cold. While trying to speak to some of the few remaining witnesses, Gail is told of a local lore than might explain at least those women who went missing and never returned. Some feel that it is likely the faeries that took them, sometimes keeping them and returning changelings, other times killing them for some misdeed. Whatever the case, Constable McNaughton is trying to use her policing skills and keep the tales to a minimum. As she works with one victim’s son to unearth truths over six decades in the past, she finds a loose link to a number of the events, something that might prove to be a solid lead. With many who were adults at the time either dead or decrepit, it will be up to Constable McNaughton to find justice for these women, who were all but forgotten at a time when the missing had their names drift off along the ocean winds. A powerful novel that digs to the core of Canadian history and lore, Escott delivers brilliantly in this second novel. Recommended to those who love a good cold case mystery, as well as the reader who enjoys a little Canadiana with their reading experience.

I could not say enough when I read Helen C. Escott’s opening novel and I am sure the same will be said again here. I was pulled into the middle of an explosive theme of crime thriller and am so pleased to see that this came out for readers to discover. Constable Gail McNaughton proves to be a wonderfully complex protagonist whose past and present mix together nicely as she seeks to reveal hard truths about Newfoundland. Raised in the RCMP tradition, McNaughton could almost say that policing is in her blood, which becomes apparent as she investigates these crimes. The reader learns much about her in a personal and professional manner throughout, which permits a closer connection as the story progresses. While trying to understand the lore many older Newfoundlanders hold dear, McNaughton is forced to face her own issues and grow from the experiences. Others that surround her prove equally interesting as they help shape the story in a variety of ways, some of which could not be expected from the outset. The story itself was not only entertaining, but also highly educations and deeply moving. Missing and murdered women is an issue currently being addressed in a small way in Canada, though the Newfoundland angle and the explanation that comes from the narrative is highly sobering and will likely touch on the heartstrings of many readers. Escott knows how to weave a tale that is both eye-opening and will resonate for a long time, which might actually bring more than lip service to the issue at hand. I can only hope that others will be as compelled as I have to learn more. I was pleased to hear that Helen Escott has many more ideas that come to mind during her walks with that blessed family pet.

Kudos, Madam Escott, for a stunning novel. I am so pleased to have come across your work and hope to read more in the coming years.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Operation Wormwood, by Helen C. Escott

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Helen C. Escott and Flanker Press Limited for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After being approached by the author to read this novel, I was curious. It was only when I read that it was set in Canada that I knew I had to give this—and a Canadian author—a try, in hopes that it would prove to be a successful undertaking. Escott offers up a gripping story, set in the capital city of Canada easternmost province, Newfoundland and Labrador. When the Roman Catholic Archbishop of the province is admitted to the hospital with a handful of symptoms, Dr. Luke Gillespie is baffled as to what it might be. A bleeding nose that comes from nowhere and cannot be stopped, extreme pain, and a sensation that the taste of water is extremely bitter, to mention only a few of these random symptoms. After running a number of tests, Dr. Gillespie discounts all of the expected diagnoses that seem to fit, which only causes him to become more befuddled. When Sergeant Nicholas Myra of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary arrives to interview the Archbishop, Gillespie is brought in on a theory the police have been floating, that this illness is isolated to those who have committed a form of pedophilia. More patients soon arrive with similar symptoms, leading Gillespie to wonder if there is an epidemic around St. John’s and if Myra’s theory might have merit. Soon, it becomes clear that this epidemic stretches outside of St. John’s and may have cases all across Canada, something an eager priest wants to share through media sources. It would seem that some of those who are afflicted know one another and call this ‘disease’ Wormwood, from a passage in the Book of Revelations. Digging deeper along the medical and legal angles, Gillespie and Myra work to ascertain how only certain individuals are being targeted and who might be behind this Wormwood, human or otherwise. Time is running out, though some may be just as happy to let nature take its course in a cruel form of survival of the worthiest. Escott pens this wonderful thriller with all the needed ingredients to hook the reader from the opening pages. Highly recommended for those who love a mix of legal and medical thrillers with a religious flavouring to keep the suspense at its most intense.

As Escott admits in her dedication, this work was a decade in the making, leaving me to believe that she spent much time honing her skills in an attempt to provide the reader with the best possible product. She surpasses many of my expectations for this novel and has me very excited to share this piece with other eager readers. Readers are able to learn much about both protagonists, Luke Gillespie and Nicholas Myra throughout this novel, as their backstories are developed effectively throughout the narrative. Coming from completely different backgrounds, both men bring different skills to the table that help propel the story forward and provide the reader with much insight as their character development thickens with each passing page. The handful of other characters offer pieces necessary to move the story forward, particularly some of the darker aspects of the story that the reader will discover upon taking the time to enjoy this novel. Escott builds these characters effectively and pulls no punches with their flaws, which only helps enhance an already strong narrative. The story itself is powerful, mixing the law and religion’s hold over the masses, as well as how to handle those who have committed grievous sin, such as pedophilia. There is much made not only of the abuse of children, but also the decades-old taint the Church has had in relation to this. Additionally, Escott brings in a discussion of Indigenous populations and the abuse they suffered, only to have their pleas ignored as not being credible. The reader need not worry about Catholic inculcation, though the biblical references are important to better understand some of the key arguments and stereotypical sentiments lobbied at the Church. Escott knows how to push without shoving and discuss without preaching, leaving a larger cross-section of readers willing to give this novel a try. I’m sure to pass this title along to anyone who is looking for a strong piece of Canadian fiction that can be digested in short order.

Kudos, Madam Escott, for a wonderful piece. I hope you have more novel ideas in the works, for I am ready to queue up to read whatever else you have on offer.

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A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons