J.L. GREGER – Can Mysteries Educate as Well as Entertain?
J.L. Greger is a scientist turned novelist. She includes science and international travel in her award-winning mysteries and thrillers: The Flu Is Coming, Games for Couples, Dirty Holy Water, Fair Compromises, and seven others.
A woman scientist and her FBI colleagues rush to find who poisoned the food at a political rally with botulism toxin in order to kill their target—a woman candidate for the U.S. Senate.
A number of physicians and biologists have become novelists, including Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Homes series), Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park), Colleen McCullough (The Thorn Birds), and Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita). Agatha Christie worked in a pharmacy during World War II. Several have commented that they wrote novels because they wanted to arouse interest in the medical sciences and public health among their readers, i.e., Robin Cook (Coma) and the inventor of birth control pills Carl Djerassi (Cantor’s Dilemma).
Do novelists impact readers’ interest in science? Maybe. A number of undergraduate women and minorities majoring in biology at one university claimed Abby Sciuto, the forensic scientist for many years on the popular T.V. show NCIS, was a role model because she was a caring person even though she was a scientist.
Their comments were particularly interesting because the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation have invested millions of dollars trying to recruit women and minorities into scientific fields but have had limited success. It seems many students think of scientists as being weird, white males. One can’t wonder if this stereotype was enhanced by fictional villains, such as Dr. Jekyll, Dr. Strangelove, and Dr. Moreau.
As scientist and dean, I can tell you that recruiting and retaining women and minorities to faculty positions is not easy. Furthermore, it’s not fun being the only woman on a government panel.
What I decided to do? I decided to write mysteries and thrillers with a woman scientist Sara Almquist as my protagonist. Sara is a feisty woman who tired of the constant bickering among university faculty members and became a consultant on epidemiology for the FBI and other agencies, including the USAID, an arm of the State Department concerned with agriculture and public health issues internationally. She has a love interest but is too independent to marry him. He calls her “a nosy do-gooder,” and she reluctantly agrees with his assessment of her.
In each of the mysteries and thrillers in my Science Traveler Series, Sara investigates a different scientific issue as she helps law enforcement agencies solve murders. They include weight loss schemes, industrial sabotage in the biotechnology industry, and bubonic plague in livestock.
In my newest mystery FAIR COMPROMISES, Sara Almquist and her FBI colleagues rush to find who endangered the lives of a hundred attendees at a political rally by poisoning the food with botulism toxin. The poisoners’ target was a woman candidate for the U.S. Senate; the rest were just collateral damage. As these agents track clues from a veterans’ hall in Clovis to health spas of Santa Fe, they must make a multitude of personal and professional (perhaps too many) compromises.
What is known about botulinum toxins? One of the hottest anti-aging products offered at health spas is BOTOX or related botulinum products. I suspect many clients get rid of their wrinkles or make their lips look luscious, and pouty know little about the injections they are getting.
Botulinum products, such as BOTOX, are produced by the same bacteria (Clostridium botulinum) that grows in improperly canned vegetables and meat. Perhaps a few of you remember your mother using a pressure cooker when she canned vegetables to prevent the lethal effects of botulinum toxin.
Your mother was right. Scientists have found botulism toxin is the most toxic natural compound ever discovered. It literally paralyzes muscles. Hence, the victims of botulism poisoning die of paralysis of the muscles needed for respiration. The death rate used to be 90%. Now with an antidote, the death rate is 5-10%.
During World War II, botulism toxin was considered as a potential weapon of war. In the 1980 and 1990s, scientists discovered tiny amounts of it could be used and injected into muscles that spasmed in various neurological conditions. They also figured out that tiny injections of botulinum toxin would prevent the muscle contractions that caused crow’s feet around the eyes and worry lines.
How is botulinum toxin used in FAIR COMPROMISES? In this mystery, state public health officials quickly determine that botulism poisoning has caused double and blurred visions and headaches in dozens of people who attended a political rally the day before. The health officials requested the help of the FBI when they realized the symptoms of the senate candidate at the rally were much worse than those of others, and she was progressing rapidly to respiratory paralysis. They think she may have been targeted.
Thus FAIR COMPROMISES is a medical mystery in which the source of the toxin must be identified. At first, improperly home canned food served at the rally appears to be the source of the toxin. The mystery turns from being the analysis of a severe food safety breach to the investigation of a diabolical murder attempt using “cosmetic” botulism toxin when Sara, with the help of a talented lab crew, discovers a more sinister source of the toxin at a health and beauty spa in Santa Fe.
How are these bits of science in FAIR COMPROMISES useful?
- It’s a reminder to home canners to follow recipe instructions carefully.
- It helps consumers appreciate the scientific basis of public health regulations in regard to food processing and cosmetics.
- It reminds women to get the facts before they select to “beat the aging process” with just an easy injection or cream.
- Maybe it will generate interest in the science in general.
J.L. can be contacted at: https://www.jlgreger.com
FAIR COMPROMISES is available at: https://www.amazon.com/Fair-Compromises-Science-Traveler-Greger/dp/1735421421
p.s. Is that a Havanese in your photo? If so, I have one and just love her.
Fascinating article! I love science and when I worked at a community college, the head of the science department was a woman. She spoke of the very issues you say hamper women going into science. You had to have a tough spine for some of the situations I heard about. Thanks for the botox info. I’ve tried to get my sister to stop injecting it, but at least she is doing it in a clinic setting. Still. … Now I will have to read your books! I love thrillers that have some meat on their bones. If you know what I mean.
And welcome to George’s blog!
But…but…but…I love Botox!!!
As I note in novel, it is a very effective drug for a number of conditions. It can do wonders to make some individuals look younger. However, Botox parties aren’t really safe. Please get your injections in a clinical setting.
George, thanks for hosting me on your wonderful blog.
Janet, you are always welcome here.
Medical mysteries are such fun! Especially like the public health angle J.L. Greger describes. There’s plenty of room for mayhem and misinformation! I have a master’s degree in public health, and even I’m surprised at the odd twists the field must follow.
I hope you enjoy this medical mystery- Four Compromises.
This is scary business as evidenced by the last two years dealing with Covid. Chemical warfare is something I hate to think of, but I pray our Government thinks about constantly. Experts like Janet are essential to uncovering these threats and in making people more aware. I’m an old man and my vanity left with the loss of my hair so things like botox have no appeal to me. Just like Mr. Black stated I believe ladies should stay away from the use of Botox.
Botox has its medical uses and can be a very effective drug. But its distribution during so called Botox parties seems dangerous.
Take a pass on the botox, everybody. I’ve known Janet for years. She’s a regular at the PSWA Conference and is always fascinating to listen to. Believe me, this lady can write and really knows her stuff. Her books are great reads. Do yourself a favor and pick up her series.
Thanks for your comments. Happy Holidays
I love this post! Welcome to George’s blog, Ms. Greger. I’m curious a statement you mentioned. You write: As scientist and dean, I can tell you that recruiting and retaining women and minorities to faculty positions is not easy. Furthermore, it’s not fun being the only woman on a government panel.
Is there a shortage of women majoring in biology? I obviously understand how difficult it must be to reach your level of academia as far as hiring. But why is it difficult for women to be *retained* once they get there? Thank you, and what stellar company you’re in! I had no idea Agatha Christie worked in a pharmacy during World War II.
The number of women majoring in biology has increased but retention is a severe problem. There are many reasons. One is inflexibility in academia for family responsibilities. The major one is women generally don’t receive the same money or respect as men in similar positions.
I can add diversity is important because it affects the type of research problems that are emphasized. I hope my books encourage women and minorities to select careers in science. I try to show in my books a few possibilities besides the traditional academic ones.
Such a cool article! As the daughter of a Black female Ph.D. in neuroscience, I grew up hearing about the situation described in your post—a lack of women and minorities in high positions within university faculty and in health-related fields. Luckily, I had my mom as an example (and because she worked at 2 HBCUs, I saw plenty of others), but I think it’s awesome that you wrote a series featuring a female scientist to give others that great example. Your book sounds very interesting, and I’d certainly love to read it! (On that note, I bet my mom would, too!)
First off, your mother is to be congratulated.
Maybe she’d enjoy one of my books for Christmas. Faculty in nursing schools have often commented they like my insider comments.
Goodness, this was such an interesting post! The book sounds fascinating, and the scientific facts do, too, and so relevant to the quick fixes on aging that still seem to plague so many women. I will be on the lookout for her books.
I try to find different and relevant scientific topics for all my books.
I focused on the emerging areas of cultured and artificial meats in Games for Couples. That book allowed me to explore the problems faced by biotech companies. I focused on new approaches to weight control in Murder…A Way to Lose Weight.
I guess that’s my point. Science is interesting.