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Monday, 3 May 2021

‘Poleaxed’ by Peter Tyrer

Published by The Book Guild Ltd,
28 October 2020.
ISBN: 978-1-91355111-7 (PB)

I’ve just come back from the ward.  Everything is as settled as it could be under the circumstances.  Five are still unconscious but the others have just woken up… our barrier nursing is successful, and all the staff are well.  We are trying to play down the increase in cases…

Poleaxed is set in 1967, England.  It tells the story of a disease which arrives suddenly and mysteriously in the provincial town of Medenby.  Barbara Dukinfield, a young anthropology student, is one of five people to succumb to the illness on the first day of the outbreak.  This initial cohort all display the same symptoms – an unexpected and instantaneous paralysis of the arms and legs that causes immediate collapse.  Matron Miriam Arbuthnot, suspecting that the malady is infectious, sets up an isolation ward with barrier nursing to avoid its spread.

After one of the Poleaxe patients dies, Dr James Porton, Medical Officer for Health, is delighted to find himself in the thick of things.  He wants public health to be given the status he thinks it deserves and, as the number of Poleaxe patients increases, he revels in becoming a celebrity in his own right.  He leads the Poleaxe Task Group and provides regular interviews on local radio.  His personal ambitions, however, begin to detract from the urgency of the situation and rivalries between different branches of the medical community threaten to derail the search for a cure.

During Barbara’s slow recovery, her anthropological knowledge prompts her to consider the disease from an unusual angle.  Then Giles Camberwell joins Porton’s team.  Camberwell is a junior doctor whose inexperience makes him a relative outsider within the hospital.  He is pleased to assume the role of “detective’s assistant” and reviews the illness through fresh eyes - a challenge to the received medical ideologies of his in-house colleagues.  Then a psychiatrist, Dr Stephen Bollider, arrives on the scene.  He regularly visits Medenby Hospital by request when patients show signs of mental illness, but when his findings call into question the hospital leadership’s approach to the disease, he soon finds himself out of favour.  The collaboration between these three young people discomfits the established medics.  The tension that ensues drives the plot towards its dénouement. 

Peter Tyrer, a community psychiatrist by profession, began writing Poleaxed in 2018.  The book was completed in 2019 but the reader could be forgiven for thinking that it was inspired by the dreadful events that have unfolded around the world over the past eighteen months or so.  It is a novel that detects not crime, but certainly a common enemy.  It is particularly relevant at the moment and lighter than the subject matter might suggest.  The plot is intriguing, informative and entertaining.  It will appeal to a host of readers and particularly those interested in medical mysteries and hospital dramas.

Reviewer: Dot Marshall-Gent

Peter Tyrer was born in 1940. He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and an active community psychiatrist, researcher (over 600 publications, 18 in The Lancet), novelist, dramatist, editor, and an identical twin.  He is still actively researching into environmental treatments for mental illness and health anxiety. His current quest is to make intricate details of medical  and mental health practice more accessible to the general public, by writing fiction from the viewpoint of an insider, not spectator or a voyeur. He lives in Newark, Notts.

Dot Marshall-Gent worked in the emergency services for twenty years first as a police officer, then as a paramedic and finally as a fire control officer before graduating from King’s College, London as a teacher of English in her mid-forties.  She completed a M.A. in Special and Inclusive Education at the Institute of Education, London and now teaches part-time and writes mainly about educational issues.  Dot sings jazz and country music and plays guitar, banjo and piano as well as being addicted to reading mystery and crime fiction.  

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