Horror is the dominant feature of this entry in the aptly named Horrors of History series.
Illustrated with numerous period photographs, this fictional effort follows many through the lethal 1918 influenza epidemic in Philadelphia, one of the hardest-hit cities in America. The tale moves smoothly among four sets of protagonists: children residing in a tenement; seminary students involved in burying the numerous dead; those providing medical care in a hospital ward where the mortality rate seems to approach 100 percent; and the head of public health for the city. Anderson (City of the Dead, 2013) uses this look at the epidemic from a variety of points of view to significantly increase the body count. Although rich with historic detail, the narrative is even richer with gruesomeness. Beginning to hemorrhage from the disease, a nurse looks back at the ward: “She saw all the doctors and nurses writhing on the floor as dozens of patients begged for help.” All, instantly afflicted, simultaneously? At one point, a 3-foot-long worm is dragged from a choking patient’s mouth by a gagging nurse. The dead are graphically described, as well: “[H]is body [was] greenish and swollen like a balloon, maggots wriggling under his nostrils and around his eyes.”
Although it colorfully examines a horrific disease, only devoted horror enthusiasts are likely to savor this story. (nonfiction epilogue, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)