THE DRUMMER WAS THE FIRST TO DIE by Liza Pennywitt Taylor

THE DRUMMER WAS THE FIRST TO DIE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 It's an interesting idea--Taylor, a UCLA immunology researcher and 1991-92 Pushcart Prize nominee, creating a Victorian-era medical thriller as her novelistic debut. Unfortunately, though, the muddled plot and strangely dazed protagonists make for a disappointingly dreary read. It's the summer of 1854, and London is in the grip of another cholera epidemic. Dr. John Snow, a reclusive British scientist (and the only nonfictional character in the book), works tirelessly among the dying in an effort to substantiate his claim that the source of cholera lies in contaminated water. Little does Snow know that the beautiful but haunted Lillian Aynsworth, an Indian-born Englishwoman he meets at a post-opera gathering, has just arrived from the Indian island where the plague first erupted and where most of her father's household succumbed. John falls instantly for Lillian, and Lillian for John, despite the fact that both their lives are in a terrible mess: Snow's due to the public ridicule and aversion caused by his work; Aynwsorth's due to a scandalous illegitimate still-birth lurking in her past. Alone against the world, the two band defiantly together to prove Snow's hypothesis despite frequent, baffling physical attacks in London's back alleyways, attempted blackmail by an envious older scientist, and the shocking appearances of Lillian's supposedly dead former lover and son. Emerging in 1855 triumphant--in both research and love-- the bloodied but unbowed detectives look forward to cohabitating happily ever after--except that, as the author points out, the real Snow died less than four years later. Taylor's portrayal of foggy, gloomy Victorian London is superb, but her characters' thickheadedness makes for a frustrating and unsatisfying thriller.

Pub Date: July 20th, 1992
ISBN: 0-312-07738-6
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1992