A White Wind Blew

Written by James Markert
Review by Marina Maxwell

A Kentucky tuberculosis sanatorium in which people die on a daily basis may not be the most appealing setting for a novel, not to mention the added stigma that Waverly Hills still carries as one of the world’s most haunted places (Google it). Yet author James Markert has delved into the heart and real history of this institution and created a remarkable piece of fiction set during the epidemic of the 1920s and prior to the availability of antibiotics.

Dr Wolfgang Pike is a complex, spiritual man torn between a final commitment to the priesthood and dedication to his patients. He still pines for his late wife, Rose, and his anxiety over his future is exacerbated by his growing affection for a nurse, Susannah. Music is Wolfgang’s personal solace, and long before music therapy would become an accepted treatment, he firmly believes that it can help restore the soul, if not cure the body, and this often puts him in conflict with his pragmatic superior, Dr Barker.

As Wolfgang works to set up a concert to prove his case, his main goal is to break through to one patient in particular, the maimed and irascible Tad McVain, a former concert pianist who refuses to be persuaded that he can still play. Wolfgang also has other challenges to contend with: racism and violent attacks by the Ku Klux Klan, plus boot-legging activities by members of staff.

Some of the final resolutions may be a little contrived, but with its memorable cast of characters, including a poignant romantic couple, the Helmans, a giant called Big Fifteen, and Lincoln, the orderly who is “Prohibition’s worst nightmare,” this is a novel that beautifully conveys humanity in all of its many contradictions and leaves you feeling rewarded and uplifted. Highly recommended.