Bill --' Rut' -- Rutland:
reporter on science and its dark side, American,
Sash -- Sacheverell -- Wessler: oil man, attacked by
Rutland for misdeeds in the East Texas oil field, then
becomes interested in Rutland's views on the
manipulation of science.
Churchill, Winston: lone political voice worried
about Britain being 'behind' an aggressive Germany
in the technology of modern war.
Report by the British Home office: a German bomb
attack could bring the UK to oblivion in six days.
Report suppressed. Churchill angry. No one listens,
or to his warnings of war by rays, atoms and
super-weapons. Report leaked to Rutland. Then to
Formation of audacious, or simply
odd? Scientist Underground idea.
Swiss-British, first employed in autumn 1938 by
Rutland & Wessler to go underground, and examine
whether the British establishment is really asleep
to the dangers of a modern, high tech, war. The
Underground Scientist -- alias 'Moorhen'.
Narrative: The ways of the Underground Scientist --
the marriage she is escaping, her effectiveness as a
young woman in a man's world, her twisting fortunes,
her move to Washington after the war breaks out, her
discovery of deep Anglo American rifts, her
concentration on this war between allies, her denial
of any interest in penicillin, the bruises of past
abuse she is covering and the revelation drawn out
of her that she
has a unique view of the potential for the wonder drug....the Underground
Scientist becomes the Underground Penicillin
Sleuth... the American she recruits, the man she
loves, the man she loves cynically...yes?..no?
Now, who is she working for?
She's failed to prevent the British giving their
secrets to the USA as she has witnessed them giving
radar and atomic secrets away? She is working for
some British and she is working for some Americans.
This is a disinterested act or the behavior of a
reckless and ambitious woman. Felix Hampson in
British intelligence is sure he knows the answer.
He can see her, suspect her but
not finger her. Trying to make penicillin a
possibility against the odds -- American scientists
seeking patents for their
own sake, pharmaceutical companies' bad practice,
widespread backhanders to stop penicillin's
development, an investigation into her by the
British. She denies all knowledge of penicillin in
the USA. It's a total lie. It appears she has finally got support for
the drug by insiders in US army medicine.
Suddenly, just when potential
momentum is building, common sense prevailing
against the vicious sulfa drug lobby, Pearl Harbor
is attacked. She is separated from Jake Ungar, her
army doctor insider. In the mayhem
penicillin is sidelined and she is caught where she
should not be, with Rutland and with a top American
bacteriologist who has helped them with leaks. There
is still no actual evidence linking her to
penicillin. Instead of being investigated, the
British secret service agent involved becomes
maddened by her intransigence and tries to rape her.
She escapes and wounds him badly with her pistol
butt. She is withdrawn to the UK. That is the end of
It is a self-contained
narrative. It's sequel (which could be read first of
without Penicillium) is tentatively called
For Whom the Nobel Tolls.
In 1942 she
is retrained. By one view the US has 'stolen'
British penicillin work, an outrageous piece of
intellectual theft. By another view, the British
gave far too much away without strings and, surely,
only the US can finance this. It is strange, yet a
fact: Nathalie, a young British woman has a vision of how $20
or $30 million could make this real. It all depends
on further penetration of the US army medical
department, corruptly wedded to the (inadequate for
serious wounds) sulfa drugs.
Traitor to the British? Neutral
friend of the wounded? Which is she? In the second
Penicillium book she penetrates key doctors in the
US army, finds that penicillin's main detractor has
lied about his credentials as a pharmacologist.
Secret tests with wounded soldiers are carried out.
Once again, as with British tests, the dying are
risen with the wonder drug. On the edge of success
for her American army doctor masters, she is
entrapped getting leaked documents again. Even so
she has started the push for what becomes the $31
million dollar grant. US penicillin goes into high
gear. Personally she is on a legal tightrope. It
must not be known of those
army doctors that she helped them and they cannot
help her. In a deal with her employers who are the
British Royal Air Force, a deal is struck whereby
she is not handed to the British but kept in custody
by the FBI. (Her entrapment has depended on a
British secret service sting to persuade the FBI she
is stealing US secrets -- which, of course, she is,
for US doctors.)
By a ruse she gets out of jail
and joins the US army, serves in France, sees
penicillin in battlefield action. It is a
redemption: her father actually died of a small
wound gone septic, the kind that has been the
scourge of army medicine for ever. Penicillin
At the end of the war, she is in a thicket of
cases against her, American for stealing American
secrets (to help American doctors) and British.
Things become worse when her key protector in US
army medicine is caught in a penicillin black market
the end of the war she get herself pregnant, thinks
she can sort out her legal tangles, fails to, is
re-incarcerated in the USA. She escapes and changes
her identity. The British win the Nobel Prize, the
Americans get the fat royalty checks. Penicillium:
Tainted prize is an alternative title.
recruited in September 1938, date of the Munich
peace proposal. From 1946 when she escaped her
second incarceration in the USA, she becomes Sonia
Olnay. Eighty eight years, in September
2016, Sonia Olnay had been dead for twenty three
years. She had died in Los Angeles after breast
cancer in 1993 when she was seventy nine. No one
alive knew she had been the scientist underground,
not because she was forgotten, because she hid the
truth. It later appeared she had been on a police
wanted list for many years.
Then her grand daughter discovers
her grandmother had been another woman. That leads
her on a trail that leads to Nathalie's hidden
Two women, grand mother and grand daughter,
deep affection between them.
The two Penicillium books are told through the
eyes of Nathalie, and others in the 1938-45
narrative. Francine, the granddaughter intersperces
in the narrative and brings in her own perspective,
member of a family
of someone who lived all their life pretending to be
someone else and who, it turns out, lies about who
was the man who made her pregnant in 1945, therefore
who is Francine's real grandfather.
It is known that Nathalie only had intercourse with
two men, her husband, David Armstrong and her
Penicillium-period lover and then second husband,
Jacob Ungar. It is possible she had other men. This
was war time. Yet the contemporary narrator,
Francine, who is so like her grandmother, does not
think so. Or thinks it would be only in passing. So
who is the man? And why did Sonia/Natalie hurt her
daughter so much by never telling?
I: is set 1938-41 looked back on
II: is set 1942-1946 looked back on from 2017.