The Pharm House – Setting

The Pharm House is set in the present with the main portion of the story taking place in western New Jersey, the Morristown area. A lot of folks who have never visited New Jersey may have a rather jaded view based on what they see on television (think The Sopranos) or in movies (think Wise Guys). When they think of NJ, they may think of Newark or the Turnpike, but there’s a reason that Jersey is called “The Garden State”.

New Jersey is rich in history; in the winter of 1779/1780, George Washington encamped the Continental Army at Jockey Hollow, near Morristown. As an amateur history buff, I have sprinkled several Civil War references throughout The Pharm House.

Western New Jersey is known for its rolling hills of farmland and horse country; a well-hidden secret. After the Civil War, the US industrial boom created a new class of wealthy industrialist working out of New York. Many of these industrialists and financiers amassed great fortunes and looked to build large estates mimicking European aristocracy. The open spaces of western New Jersey were a perfect locale.

Railroad lines took these captains of industry into New York, while their families remained on their estates in the small towns of western New Jersey, e.g., Morristown, Bernardsville, Peapack, Mendham, Florham Park, etc. Many of the manor homes of these estates, which ranged in size from 50 to 500 acres, have been lost to time and development, however several remain even today.

In The Pharm House, Marshall Pharmaceutical is located in the middle of Marshall Farms, now a sprawling private industrial park, but once the home of a manor house and estate at the end of the 19th century.
Parts of The Pharm House also take place in Manhattan, Washington, D.C. (with a few more historical tidbits), London and Tokyo.

Join Nicholas and friends and see parts of New Jersey that most Americans have never seen.

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Characters of “The Pharm House” Part 2

Jack O’Connor – Nicholas’ boss at Marshall Pharmaceutical

Jack was a Senior Vice President and a member of the Marshall Board of Directors. Tall, barrel-chested with gunmetal gray crew-cut hair, Jack was one of those over-testosteroned manly men who thought that regardless of whose company he was in, his was the superior intellect present and by default, the leader.

O’Connor’s office was on the R&D building executive – fifth- floor. As head of all Marshall R&D, both clinical and non-clinical, Jack ruled his global empire with an iron fist. Nicholas had read an article on James Baker, Secretary of State under George H. W. Bush. Baker was described as ‘the velvet hammer’, someone who welded extreme power, but with finesse and class. Given that, O’Connor’s style could be described as ‘the rusty spiked hammer’. When Jack was in the room, there was space for only one opinion – his.

Nicholas had some degree of technical respect for O’Connor, but felt that his bullying, micromanaging style was about 30 years outdated. As a member of the Marshall Board of Directors, Jack carried considerable clout. He’d long ago wiped out all potential enemies and competition and the rumor was he lusted after the company C.E.O. position.

O’Connor’s lair was spacious and designed to intimidate; a large open anteroom with chairs for waiting victims far away from the workspace of his secretary, Roberta. That way if you’re waiting for Jack, you can’t see what she’s working on. And Roberta was a piece of work. She ruled over all the R&D secretaries like the Wicked Witch of the East ruled her flying monkeys. Roberta was one of those secretaries who took glee from using her bosses’ power to terrorize everyone else in the organization.

Nicholas learned long ago that two people you absolutely never want to piss off are the bosses’ secretary and spouse in that order. So, every Secretary’s Day or Administrative Assistant’s Day or whatever the current politically correct term was, even though he hated it as holiday created by and for Hallmark and the florist industry, every Christmas and on her birthday, Roberta received flowers and candy from Nicholas. Consequently, Roberta, Queen of the Vampires, had a soft spot in her cold, hypertrophied heart for Nicholas.

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Characters of “The Pharm House” Part 1

Beth Cowlings

Beth is Nicholas’ attorney. She is from Raleigh North Carolina and is an old friend of Nicholas’ mother, Dorothy Harding. Beth and Dorothy had met and become friends in the racially charged segregated south in the later half of the 20th century.

Beth is licensed to practice law in New Jersey and at Dorothy’s request, she comes to NJ to help Nicholas with the mess he seems to have gotten himself entangled in at Marshall Pharmaceutical.

“Beth Cowling was the type of person who became the center of attention, no matter where she was. A tad on the short side, compensated for by high-heels, her favorite color was white. And today, she was a vision of flowing white from her shoes, to her white pantsuit with long floor-length vest. She had piercing grey wolf-like eyes, but the most striking aspect of Beth today and most others was her hair – snow white and shoulder length. Somehow the white hair actually made her look younger than the mid 50’s she was.

Nicholas had quietly entered living room where Beth was holding court with Dorothy, Michael and Andrea.

She had that slow melodious swaying southern accent – the kind used by refined southern ladies. And could lull you into a false sense of superiority. Nicholas had always been fascinated by the fact that the average American hearing a southern accent automatically deducted about 15 IQ points. That same person hearing a refined British accent would add 15 IQ points to the speaker. He suspected that Beth made ample use of this trick and had been under estimated by many a foe – mostly likely to their serious detriment.

“I hope you don’t go skiing in that outfit.” Nicholas said from across the room.

“Not to worry. Why I’d just melt the snow with my charm.” She said walking towards Nicholas, extending her hand.

Waiting for the others to arrive, Nicholas stared at Beth as she sat slowly smoking her cigar and drinking her brandy.

“Why what is it Nicholas, dear?” She purred.

Nicholas laughed. “I’ll bet you have six inch fangs.”

“I’ve never heard it put quite that way, but very perceptive dear, very perceptive.”

Beth turns out to be quite the charmer…

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Evolution of “The Pharm House”

How did I come up with the story and title for The Pharm House?  My first attempt at writing a novel length story was during graduate school. It was science fiction, about half-finished and is beyond awful. I still keep it as a painful reminder. I waited several years and was ready to start another novel length story. You always hear “Write what you know”. My choices were to write about something I was already knowledgeable about, or go off and do the research in order to become knowledgeable. Working full time in the pharmaceutical industry, doing research on a new topic wasn’t viable given the time required. That was when I decided to set my story inside a fictional pharmaceutical company – Marshall Pharmaceutical.

Several of todays pharmaceutical businesses started out as family concerns, in some cases family pharmacies, e.g., Merck, Pfizer, McNeil, etc. Some of these businesses were originally called the “House of…”

Big pharmaceutical companies are often referred to as Big Pharma. Using a play on words, I decided to title my book, The Pharm House.

Even though The Pharm House is set in a pharmaceutical company, it is really a story about family. It’s about Nicholas Harding, a young scientist/executive at Marshall Pharmaceutical. Nicholas is a regular guy – a single Dad trying to raise a precocious 11-year-old daughter while clawing his way up that ever so slippery middle management ladder.

But unknown to Nicholas, there are dark forces inside Marshall Pharmaceutical and he is about to be drawn into their plans and finds himself fighting for his career, his family and perhaps even his life.

The Pharm House is a suspense thriller novel set in today’s international pharmaceutical industry.

What if a young scientist, Dr. Nicholas Harding, working in a pharmaceutical company is just trying to take care of his family, but gets caught up in an international plot?

This is the basis for my story – The Pharm House, – a thriller set in a fictional New Jersey pharmaceutical company.

The protagonist, Nick Harding, is struggling to raise a young daughter as a single parent and climb the corporate ladder when he stumbles across a global plot to take over the company where he works, Marshall Pharmaceutical Corporation.

Mysterious deaths occur, including Nick’s mentor. Nick’s career, family and life are threatened. Nick is kind of like Alan Gregory in the Stephen White stories, just a guy trying to get through life and take his family, but things (bad people) keep getting in the way.

The Pharm House is the first in a series of three stories about the Harding Family.

I invite you to join me and see how events play out for Nick, his family and friends in The Pharm House.

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The Borgias

 

Speaking of Toxicologist (as in Nicholas Harding in The Pharm House), any aficionados of The Borgias out there? As a toxicologist, of course I knew who the Borgias were – early adaptors to the art of toxicology. Lucrezia and Cesare and their daddy Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo); one would want to be most careful when invited to dine at the Borgia manor. Lucrezia was rumored to be a notorious poisoner (toxicologist) and master of political intrigue; a strong independent woman no doubt.

I missed the first season of The Borgias, but stumbled across it On Demand, couldn’t get enough and was completely hooked. I mean really, what’s not to love about that family!

Lucrezia was born on April 18, 1480 near Rome. Her mother was Vannozza dei Cattanei, one of the mistresses of her father, Cardinal Rodrigo de Borgia (later Pope Alexander VI). At one time, she reigned as the Governor of Spoleto, a position usually held by cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church.

She married three times, her family arranging marriages for her that advanced their own political positions.

Numerous rumors have persisted throughout the years of extravagant parties thrown by the Borgia family with allegations of incest, poisoning and murder on the part of Lucrezia.

It was whispered that she was in possession of a hollow ring that she used frequently to poison drinks.

After a long history of complicated pregnancies and miscarriages, on June 14, 1519, Lucrezia gave birth to her tenth child. She had become very weak during the pregnancy, fell seriously ill after the birth and died on June 24, 1519 at the age of 39.

Cesare was Lucrezia’s older brother. He was groomed for a career in the Roman Catholic Church from an early age. Both his great-uncle, Alphonso Borgia and Rodrigo Borgia served as Pope. Cesare was made Cardinal of the Church at the age of 18. Of course, his birth records needed a little modification, since he was the illegitimate son of Cardinal Rodrigo and his mistress, Vannozza dei Cattanei.

Cesare eventually resigned as Cardinal and was appointed commander of the papal armies and ruler of his own state in northern Italy.

Leonardo da Vinci was briefly employed by Cesare as a military architect and engineer, between 1502 and 1503.

Upon the death of his father, Pope Alexander VI in 1503, Cesare’s power began to fade. In 1507, he was attacked by an enemy party of knights; trapped in an ambush where he received a fatal wound from a spear and died shortly after.

The Church fought over where to bury Cesare’s remains with the final resolution coming in 2007, 500 years after his death, when his remains were moved back into the Church of Santa María in Viana.

Enough, about the Borgias. But aren’t you a bit curious about what the toxicologists in The Pharm House are up to?

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Just what is a Toxicologist?

Nicholas Harding, the protagonist in my first novel, The Pharm House, is a toxicologist by training, like myself. When I inform most people that I’m a toxicologist, I often receive a puzzled look. So in the event you are one of the puzzled, here is the definition of toxicology according to Wikipedia:

“Toxicology (from the Greek words τοξικός – toxicos “poisonous” and logos) is a branch of biology, chemistry, and medicine concerned with the study of the adverse effects of chemicals on living organisms. It is the study of symptoms, mechanisms, treatments and detection of poisoning, especially the poisoning of people.”

Yes! It’s the study of poison! Isn’t that cool!

All pharmaceutical companies employ toxicologists. When you go to the drug store to purchase drug X to do whatever it is you and your doctor desire it to do, how do you know that it will not make your hair fall out, your heart palpitate, cause you to lose consciousness, have seizures or much, much worse? That’s where your toxicologist comes in. Before and during human clinical studies, we study new drugs looking for potential adverse effects or toxicities. It gets rather complicated, so I will avoid boring you with the details.

So, how did a “normal” guy like me get into studying poison? I majored in biology in undergrad and was trying to figure out what I was going to do with a degree in that field. The summer after my sophomore year, I got a part time job in a toxicology lab at the National Institute of Environmental Health and Sciences (NIEHS) in the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina.

After being exposed to toxicology, to quote Nicholas Cage who played Stanley Goodspeed, a toxicologist in The Rock (one of the best Action/Adventure movies ever made and with a kickass soundtrack), “Got my first chemistry set when I was seven. Blew my eyebrows off. We never saw the cat again. Been into it ever since.”!

I worked in the NIEHS lab until I graduated, and then went on to get a M.S. and Ph.D. in toxicology – I was home! I got paid to work with poison – how cool is that? Well, in a nerdy sort of way, maybe.

With all my knowledge of toxicology and the pharmaceutical industry, I decided to make my protagonist a toxicologist. I think we kind of get looked over in entertainment. Check out The Pharm House and see what Nicholas is up to.

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The Power of Poisons

A couple of years ago, when I saw that the American Museum of Natural History in New York, was running an exhibit entitled, “The Power of Poisons”, I just had to attend. Why you might ask. It all started when after my sophomore year of college; I took a part time job in a toxicology laboratory at the National Institute of Environmental Health and Sciences at the Research Triangle Park in the Raleigh-Durham, NC area. Well, it was love at first sight – toxicology; and me and we have been together ever since! In case you may not know, toxicology is a discipline incorporating biology, chemistry, pharmacology and medicine that involve the study of the adverse effects of chemical substances on living organisms; i.e., the study of poisons. The word toxicology comes from the ancient Greeks and Byzantines, meaning poison and study of. I went on to the University of Cincinnati to get a Masters and Ph.D. in toxicology and then, you may not believe this, figured out a way to get paid to study poisons! Is America Great or what! How, you ask did I pull this off? Here’s the secret – technically, everything is a poison, it’s just a matter of the dose!

Where are poisons found?

  • Animal – For example, reptilian venoms are among nature’s deadliest innovations. Every year, these expensive weapons (because of the energy needed to produce the venom), delivered through the fangs of vipers, cobras and numerous others, kill up to 200,000 people.
  • Plant – Over millions of years of evolution, plants have developed an array of chemical defenses against insects, herbivores and even other plants.
  • Mineral – Some metals can be toxic. Arsenic and mercury are two well known examples.

 

How do poisons work? Poisons are defined by the systems that they effect.

  • Neurotoxins like strychnine and mercury affect the signaling mechanisms of nerves.
  • Cytotoxins like ricin (from castor beans, remember you Breaking Bad fans?) and arsenic disrupt cell functions.
  • Hemotoxins, found in leech saliva and many snake venoms inhibit blood clotting.
  • Mycotoxins found in some vipers destroy muscle tissue.
  • Some viper venoms combine neurotoxins, mycotoxins and hemotoxins. A bite from some of these vipers can result in death in a matter of minutes!

 

 

Here are just a few other poisonous animals…

 

Golden Poison Frog:  The golden poison frog is considered one of the most toxic animals on Earth. A single specimen measuring two inches has enough venom to kill ten grown men. The indigenous Emberá people of Colombia have used its powerful venom for centuries to tip their blowgun darts when hunting, hence the species’ name.

Scientists are unsure of the source of this frog’s amazing toxicity, but it is possible they assimilate plant poisons, which are carried by their prey. Poison dart frogs raised in captivity and isolated from insects in their native habitat never develop venom.

 

Wandering Spider or “Banana Spider: Remember those panicked reports of people finding deadly spiders-perhaps the deadliest on Earth-in bunches of bananas? Those reports referred to the Brazilian wandering spider, whose bite can cause severe burning, sweating, and goose bumps followed by high or low blood pressure, nausea, hypothermia, blurred vision, vertigo, and convulsions.

The Guinness Book of World Records considers the Brazilian wandering spider the most venomous in the world. Hundreds of bites are reported annually, but a powerful anti-venom prevents deaths in most cases.

 

The Giant Silkworm Moth Caterpillar (see the little cutie below) is a species of moths from South America. It is famous for its larval form, rather than the adult moth, primarily because of the caterpillar’s defense mechanism, spiny bristles that inject potentially deadly venom. The caterpillar has been responsible for many human deaths, especially in southern Brazil.

 

So, remember, everything is a poison; it’s just a matter of the dose! And before you pickup some cute little crawly thing; some poisons come in very cute packages…

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Cute and Venomous

“Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy.”

– Paracelsus

When most of us think of venomous animals, what most likely comes to mind are slithery reptiles, multi-legged spiders or anything living in Australia. But did you know that there are venomous mammals? In contemporary nature, venomous mammals are relatively rare. It is suggested by paleontologists that poisonous mammals were once more common.

What are some venomous mammals?

  • Well, you may be familiar with the Duck-Billed Platypus that odd Australian (surprise) egg-laying mammal that resembles a cross between a furry duck/beaver. While both male and female platypuses are born with ankle spurs, only the male’s spurs deliver venom from a gland in their thighs, which is potent enough to kill a mid-sized dog. While Platypus venom is not lethal to humans, it is potent enough to temporarily incapacitate a person.
  • Several species of shrew; the Eurasian water shrew, the Northern Short-tailed shrew and the Southern Short-tailed shrew, etc.
  • And my favorite – the Cuban Solenodon – they are so frigging cute!

 

 

The Cuban Solenodon is endemic to Cuba and related to the Hispaniolan Solenodon. It was previously thought to be extinct, but was recently sighted in the late 1990s and the early 2000s. It is a nocturnal burrower that lives underground, making it hard to find. The Solenodon weighs about 2 pounds and measures 16 – 22 inches from nose to tail with an extremely elongated snout and a long, naked, scaly tail. It resembles members of the Tenrecidae famile that include hedgehogs, shrews, opossums, mice and otters.

The Cuban Solenodon is found in dense, humid forest and around plantations. It is an insectivore and comes out at night to hunt insects and lizards. They have a long life span and low reproductive rate as a result of being among the dominant predators in their habitat before Europeans colonized the New World, bringing larger mammals.

Solenodons have venomous bites. Their venom is delivered from modified salivary glands via grooves in their lower incisors.

Currently the Cuban Solennodon is considered an endangered species because it only produces a single litter of one to three pups in a year and because of predation by species that were introduced by humans.

But wait, what if there was a cute, but deadly venomous primate? Impossible, you say? You’re wrong. The Slow Loris (genus Nycticebus) is accepted as the only known venomous primate! And check out cute it is. Look at that face!

 

There are at least nine recognized species of Slow Loris and they are relatively small, weighing approximately two pounds. They have a dual composite venom that consists of their specialized saliva and secretions from a specialized sweat gland on their forearm.  The mixture, which is administered by a bite from an adapted toothcomb, is a potent toxin that in humans can produce necrotic wounds, anaphylactic shock and even death in some circumstances.

So, the next time you go to pet some cute little animal, just remember –  “Deadly doesn’t have to be scary looking”.

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The Toxicology of The Terror


Above – HMS Terror shipwreck

In my previous blog (The Terror of The Terror), I shared with you my minor obsession with the doomed saga of The Franklin Expedition in a 19th century search for the Northwest Passage in the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus. Let’s go to the end of the story and work our way back. The British Admiralty launched several failed rescue missions starting in 1848 and some went on for 33 years.

In 2014, archaeologists and Inuit historians found the HMS Erebus in Victoria Strait. Two years later, the HMS Terror was found in Terror Bay on the southwestern coast of King William Island. But what happened to the crew? Some communications left by Captain Crozier and Commander James Fitzjames (Captain of the Erebus) and second in command of the expedition upon Franklin’s death was found in Cairns, but the official ships logs were never found. The wrecks of the Terror and Erebus are in relatively shallow water and in good shape, most likely due to the frigid water temperatures. The sites are protected and being preserved with artifacts being recovered.

But what happened? There are several theories. Imagine my glee when I stumbled across a paper by Zane Horowitz (Oregon Health & Science University) on “Polar Poisons: Did Botulism Doom the Franklin Expedition?”. I’m a toxicologist by training and now a mystery/thriller author. The story of The Terror combines mystery/suspense with history, a wee bit of the supernatural and toxicology. It is truly my perfect story!

Let’s unpack what we know.

 

  • The HMS Terror and HMS Erebus were state of the art and very well provisioned to feed 134 men for three years, including 32,224 pounds of salt beef, 36,487 pounds of biscuits, 20,463 pints of soup, 8900 pounds of preserved vegetables, 9260 pounds of lemon juice (to combat scurvy), 3684 gallons of concentrated spirits and 4980 gallons of ale and other alcohol beverages.
  • The provider of the canned goods for the expedition was Stephan Goldner (the lowest bidder), who a few years later would be caught in a scandal regarding his canned foods for naval ships going rancid. One theory is that the majority of the expedition’s canned food went bad, resulting in them loosing a significant portion of their food supply.
  • On May 19, 1845, Erebus and Terror left England and sailed for the west coast of Greenland, where five men were discharged due to illness, bringing the total crew number to 129. On July 26, the expedition met two British whaling ships, the Enterprise and the Prince of Whales – the last Europeans to see the Franklin expedition alive.
  • The Erebus and Terror continued west and wintered on Beechey Island where three crewmembers died and were buried in the permafrost. The bodies were exhumed (and reburied) in the 1980s for forensic testing in order to shed light on what may have happened.
  • On September 12, 1846, the sea froze around the Erebus and Terror just north of King William Island, signaling the start of winter. The crew left messages in a cairn detailing events to this point.
  • The sea in this region usually froze in late August or early September and then broke up the following spring, but in 1847, spring and summer never came and Erebus and Terror found themselves trapped and drifting helplessly with the pack ice.
  • By spring 1848, both ships remained stuck in the ice. Captain Franklin and several officers and crew had died of currently unknown causes. Crozier was now in command with Fitzjames as his second-in-command. The men were reaching the end of their original food supply. They decided to abandon Erebus and Terror in a desperate attempt at survival. They hoisted smaller boats on sledges, packed them full of provisions and set off in search of rescue. They returned to the cairn where they had left a note a year earlier; where Crozier and Fitzjames updated their status (see below). The remaining crew set off for Back’s Fish River, which led to a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post, but this goal was hundreds of miles away over a vast artic wasteland.
  • In 1854, a Hudson’s Bay Company surveyor met with several Inuit near King William Island and asked if they had seen white men or ships. The Inuit told of seeing about 40 survivors marching south dragging a boat on a sledge. The Inuit also reported that later during the 1850 season they encountered the corpses of some 30 persons and some graves. The Hudson’s Bay Company report states, “From the mutilated state of many of the bodies, and contents of the kettles, it is evident that our wretched countrymen had been driven to the last dread alternative as a means of sustaining life.” Cannibalism
  • Forensics backs up this gruesome finding. In the 1980s and 1990s, bones of crewmembers were found and showed signs of heating and breakage and being cracked open to obtain the fat-rich bone marrow. The conclusion was undeniable evidence of cannibalism.
  • In 1859 a British search expedition found a trail of bones and other evidence along the southwestern coast of King William Island. A boat with two skeletons and supplies was found, along with the cairn where they retrieved Crozier’s and Fitzjames’ note – the sole piece of written evidence from the Franklin expedition.
  • The first explorer to navigate the Northwest Passage by ship, the goal of the Franklin expedition, was Roald Amundsen in 1903 – 1906.
  • In 2014, archaeologists and Inuit historians located the wreck of the Erebus in Victoria Strait and in 2016; a separate group located the wreck of the Terror in Terror Bay.

 

What could have happened to the crews of the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus?

o   High levels of lead were found in the tissue and bones of all three crew buried on Beechey Island. Some have suggested that the lead solder used to seal the expedition’s canned provisions had leached into the food resulting in neurological impairment and possibly death.

o   Could Botulism, type E, which is endemic in the Arctic, have contributed to crew deaths? In theory the Botulism could have come from improperly prepared canned foods or from eating contaminated local fish and game.

o   Or was the fate of the crew a combination of horrors; lead poisoning, botulism, scurvy, tuberculosis, zinc deficiency, Addison’s Disease, exposure, starvation, cannibalism?

  • One last tale persisted in some remote Inuit corners. That one white man, an ‘‘eshmuta,’’ was aided by the Inuk and survived. Romantics like to think that young, Captain Crozier, the ‘‘eshmuta’’ leader of that final brave death march south, the most experienced Arctic explorer alive at that time, was that sole survivor. Will we ever know?

↓  ­Location of HMS Terror & HMS Erebus abandonment and shipwrecks

← Facsimile of Crozier & Fitzjames note found in cairn

 

 

 

For Further Reading:

  1. The Terror by Dan Simmons – 2007
  2. Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition by Owen Beattie by John Geiger – 2017
  3. Captain Francis Crozier: Last Man Standing? by Michael Smith – 2006
  4. Sir John Franklin’s Erebus and Terror Expedition: Lost and Found by Gillian Hutchinson – 2017
  5. Polar Poisons: Did Botulism Doom the Franklin Expedition?  A. Horowitz; Journal of Toxicology. Clinical Toxicology 41 (6): 841-847, February 2003
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The Terror of The Terror

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have you ever experienced a story, be it a television show or series, a movie or novel that gets inside your head and just won’t let go even after you have finished the original story? Well The Terror did that for me. The Terror is a 2007 novel by Dan Simmons and a 2018 television series on AMC.

Warning: If you have not seen series or read the book, there are spoilers below.

Why did this story grab me? The Terror combines history with mystery/suspense with the supernatural and believe it or not with toxicology! It’s my perfect story!

In the early 19th century the search for the Northwest Passage, a sea route from the Atlantic to the Pacific was the equivalent of the mid-20th century quest to put a man on the moon. The prevailing theory at the time was that the Arctic would be relatively ice-free during the summer months. A sea route from the Atlantic to the Pacific, through northern Canada, would quickly become a trade route from Europe to Asia. The leader of this exploratory quest – the premier sea power of the 19th century – the British Royal Navy.

On this particular expedition, two ships were outfitted, the HMS Terror, a retrofitted bomb vessel built in 1813. She participated in several battles in the War of 1812, including the Battle of Baltimore with the bombardment of Fort McHenry. “And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there”
The “rockets” and “bombs” came from British naval bomb vessels that included HMS Terror. HMS Erebus was also a bomb vessel constructed by the Royal Navy in 1826. The vessel was named after the dark region in Hades of Greek mythology, called Erebus.

Several early 19th century attempts by the British navy to find and traverse the Northwest Passage had failed when in 1845; Captain John Franklin led a British Royal Navy expedition consisting of the HMS Erebus (his flag ship) and HMS Terror (captained by Captain Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier), the expedition’s second-in-command.

The Franklin Expedition left England in 1845 with sufficient provisions to last for 3 years (5 with rationing). Both vessels had been retrofitted with extra timbers and iron plating to the fore and aft hull to withstand the pressures of the ice; along with a 40 horsepower steam engine.

The novel and AMC series have both added a very scary supernatural aspect to the story, but the story of HMS Terror and HMS Erebus is plenty scary enough.

Captains Franklin and Crozier both were experienced Arctic and Antarctica sea captains. Crozier appears to have been the more experienced and better of the two; unfortunately Franklin was the leader of the expedition.

The expedition left England on 19 May 1845 and was last seen entering Baffin Bay, located between Baffin Island and the southwest coast of Greenland. By September 1846, the two ships became trapped in ice off Canada’s King William Island and never moved again. Or did they?

The British Admiralty was not initially concerned, thinking the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus had enough food and supplies for three years. The Admiralty did eventually launch a rescue mission in 1848 and offer a 20,000 British Pounds reward for finding the Franklin Expedition. Rescue missions went on for 33 years.

But by 1848, when the first rescue expedition was launched, it was too late. Franklin died in June 1847 and 23 other men had died before 1848. Communications that the Captains left in Cairns describing their situation were later found. The rest of the crew under Captain Crozier stayed on the boats, alive for two full winters and eventually abandoned the boats in 1848 and attempted to walk toward an outpost. During these two winters at times the temperature dropped to -100 degrees F and the ice up to 15 feet thick! Try to imagine those conditions on two sailing ships of the early 19th century for three years!

 

 

 

Cairn

They all died during the trek. Or did they?

Next blog, I will talk about what we know and about what could have happened and how toxicology comes into the story.

For Further Reading:

  1. The Terror by Dan Simmons – 2007
  2. Frozen in Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition by Owen Beattie by John Geiger – 2017
  3. Captain Francis Crozier: Last Man Standing? by Michael Smith – 2006
  4. Sir John Franklin’s Erebus and Terror Expedition: Lost and Found by Gillian Hutchinson – 2017
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