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copyright Francis J Gladstone, April 2019

 

Penicillium The novels

Bill --' Rut' -- Rutland: reporter on science and its dark side, American, born 1900.

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 Wessler.

Formation of audacious... or simply odd?... Scientist Underground idea.

Nathalie Armstrong, 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 PENICILLIUM.

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 changes that.

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 operation.

 At 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.

The perspective:  Nathalie was 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 story.

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 from 2016.
II: is set 1942-1946 looked back on from 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

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