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