A tuberculosis epidemic, as seen through the eyes of a sanatorium doctor driven by his love of God and music.
According to the author of this first novel, Waverly Hills Tuberculosis Sanatorium was a real place on a hilltop outside Louisville, Ky. The locals were fearful of the white wind blowing down on them. In the winter of 1929, two doctors handle 500 patients. Some will leave symptom-free, but more will die. Dr. Wolfgang Pike finds playing his harmonica or violin soothes his patients. The 31-year-old doctor inherited his love of music from his Protestant father; where Wolfgang differed was in his embrace of Catholicism. His pursuit of the priesthood faltered when he met the lovely Rose outside a cathedral. The two young Catholics ministered to soldiers during the great flu epidemic of 1918. They married; five years later, Wolfgang lost Rose in a traffic accident. By then, the seminarian was a doctor, still hoping to become a priest one day. At Waverly, his hectic life is further burdened by Ku Klux Klan members harassing him. They burn a cross outside the nearby “colored” hospital. Their mischief is counterbalanced by the arrival of a new patient, McVain, an ornery guy but a talented pianist. Soon, the novel settles into the familiar groove of an inspirational work. McVain overcomes his bigotry to play with a black flutist and a Jewish violinist. Wolfgang organizes the healthier patients into a choir; there will be a concert. Naturally, there are setbacks; the senior doctor is opposed, and there’s even a horrific lynching, but the concert is a triumph for conductor Wolfgang and pianist McVain, even though they are the last notes he will ever play. The action is not quite over. Wolfgang succumbs to carnal temptation for the second time and marries a nurse, Susannah. This one will be a brief marriage, as her tuberculosis proves fatal.
Markert’s weakness for murderous melodrama trivializes a dark time in medical history.