Operation Wormwood by Helen C. Escott

Over the years, Flanker Press of Newfoundland & Labrador has published a vast array of books, both Fiction and Non-Fiction, including the excellent historical fiction books of Gary Collins. Operation Wormwood (2018) is a fictional crime thriller that was interesting to read, to say the least. The main theme is that a “disease” of sorts is affecting a particular group of people, namely pedophiles. They experience prodigious nosebleeds and unquenchable thirst. When they are given water, it tastes so bitter they cannot swallow it. When it strikes the Archbishop of Newfoundland, the church is scandalized and Father Peter Cooke declares to the world that this nothing less than a plague sent by God to get pedophiles to repent of their sins. [perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”Revelation 8:11″ link=”” color=”#1e3151″ class=”” size=””]”The name of the star is Wormwood. And a third of the waters turned into wormwood, and many of the people died from the waters because these had been made bitter.”[/perfectpullquote]

Once they do confess, they will get relief from their symptoms. But is not only the clergy, the disease subsequently exposes a pedophile ring in St.John’s that the police have been unable to crack until now. The medical community wants to believe in a scientific explanation, yet none of their tests show anything wrong with the patient. The police just want the pedophiles caught and their victims to get help, they don’t really care if this an act of God or not. Very divisive, this disease!

Photo of The Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, St. John's Newfoundland by Tk_White, Flickr
The Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, St. John’s Newfoundland

Taking the lead in the medical investigation is Dr. Luke Gillespie and Nurse Agatha Catania (who seem to be the only doctor and nurse in the hospital, whether it is in the ER or the ICU). For the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, it is Sgt. Nick Myra, a veteran of the force who has seen too much and suffers from PTSD. Luke and Nick join forces to attempt to get to the bottom of what is affecting the patients, if it is contagious and who their victims are.

While Operation Wormwood was a good read that had my attention all the way through, it left me dissatisfied at a certain level. The main characters such as Luke and Agatha are somewhat one dimensional, and the most defined characters were the Sgt. and Sister Mary Pius, a knowledgeable nun who despises the pedophiles and is happy to see them get what they deserve.

“It may only be a matter of time before God unleashes a plague upon the earth.” Sister Mary Pius

As for the story, it is certainly a good topic from a religious as well as a secular viewpoint. There are bad priests and good, so the Catholic church is not being singled out, although it is the prime offender. Readers who are fascinated by medical issues will be engaged, as well as those interested in the police investigation of criminal activities (The author is a retired civilian member of the RCMP).

As I mentioned earlier, the story itself left me a little disappointed, like a meal that looks and smells good but lacks real flavour. Operation Wormwood is what I would classify as a “cozy mystery” for there is no profanity or sex in the story at all. It might be rated PG-13 due to the nature of the crimes committed, however. There is a certain amount of good, thriller-type darkness to the story, but I believe with a little more depth in some of the characters and a few more plot lines followed (such as the Minister of Health who is a pedophile and attempts to hinder the research from getting national attention), there would have been an excellent book to read. Nevertheless, I rather liked it, and I’m sure most readers will too.

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James M. Fisher is the owner and editor-in-chief of The Miramichi Reader. He began TMR in 2015, realizing that there was a genuine need for more book reviews of Canadian literature. It has since become Canada’s best-regarded source for the finest in new literary releases. James has been interviewed about TMR on CBC Radio and other media sites. James works as a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Technologist and lives in Miramichi, New Brunswick with his wife Diane and their tabby cat Eddie.

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