It isn't often that you read a powerful novel, "The Anatomy of Deception," that is written by a constitutional scholar with a doctorate in history.
Yet those are the qualifications of Lawrence Goldstone, a gifted writer with a strong side interest in science and medicine.
He and his equally talented wife, Nancy, co-authored two scientific histories, but they have given up their literary partnership because their interests have diverged.
"We fight less now," Goldstone said jokingly during a phone interview from his home in Westport, Conn. "Because we fought over sentence structure instead of money and in-laws."
In his medical research, Goldstone was struck by the contributions and personalities of Dr. William Osler, whom he called "arguably the greatest American surgeon." He also labeled William Halsted "America's greatest surgeon."
Both emerged in their fields of expertise in the late 1880s, when medicine was in its infancy, yet medical students still study both, especially the writings of Osler.
Goldstone writes that Osler "personally epitomized the very peak of medical ethics and was a man of exceptionally high moral fiber." And Halsted pioneered ways to minimize blood loss and achieve sterile conditions during surgery.
"They are both revered by physicians today," Goldstone said. Yet Halsted experimented on himself with cocaine as an anesthetic, and he never overcame that addiction. Osler, whose diary was studied for the first time in 1969, covered up that addiction because Halsted was his mentor. The author also discovered another instance in which Osler "turned a blind eye to the malfeasance of a fellow physician."
Goldstone maintained that he "tried to be fair to Osler," even though the two men's flaws helped him develop a believable crime story around them. In his new historical novel, Goldstone created the fictional protagonist, Ephraim Carroll, who allegedly went to Philadelphia to study with Osler.
Autopsies were performed at the infamous Blockley Dead House, the morgue in early Philadelphia, and in the book, an Osler decision not to perform one on a young, attractive woman transforms Carroll into a medical detective. Another young doctor, called Turk, is revealed to have performed medically dangerous abortions," at least one of which leads to double murder.
When Dr. Halsted becomes the prime suspect, Carroll is shocked. Meanwhile, Osler and Halsted are both invited to assume high medical posts at the new, highly advanced Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, and Osler offers Carroll a job there as well.
As Carroll works off-hours as a medical sleuth to solve the crime, he becomes ensnared in the trap that could lose him the coveted medical opportunity. He also develops a love interest in Abigail Benedict, a high society young woman of great beauty and deception.
Carroll fails to realize that his most likely romantic liaison is really with his pretty and brilliant medical associate, Dr. Mary Simpson, also an Osler student.
When Osler realizes Carroll is getting too close to the truth, he invites him to his office to listen to William Halsted's surprisingly convincing attempt to clear himself from suspicion. In Goldstone's mind, this is "the key scene in the book."
Goldstone also adeptly uses the real life controversial painter, Thomas Eakins, known for nude figures. Eakins is a friend of the fictional Abigail and often interacts with Carroll.
The reason for these characters and Goldstone's assiduous research is his firm belief that "the truth is just so interesting."
Besides his medical research, Goldstone has been inspired by the suspense novels of intrigue written by the famed John LeCarre, "because LeCarre took real issues and imbedded them in his books. I wanted to give the reader something to chew on."
He also admires the books of William Boyd and Philip Karr, among others and he also writes non-fiction, having just finished an interpretive book on the early history of the U.S. Supreme Court, called "The Activist," to be published in the fall.In writing "The Anatomy of Deception," Goldstone started by knowing both the beginning and the ending. "If those two make sense, then I believe I can produce a convincing journey," Goldstone said.
E-mail: [email protected]