Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Bonus FFB on Wednesday: The Winter Is Past -- Harry Whittington

The Winter Is Past is likely the most forgotten book ever posted about.  Whittington researcher and expert Rick Ollerman found the manuscript when going through boxes of papers with Whittingon's daughter, Harriett (and it deeply saddens me to report that Harriett passed away only a few days ago).  Rick says that the only people to have read the manuscript are Harry Whittington himself, his wife, Katherine, and me.  Rick read a few pages of it before making a copy and sending it to me.  What an honor and a privilege it is to be the person reading a heretofore unknown Whittington novel thanks to Rick's generosity!  

Now about the book.  It's both a medical drama and a courtroom drama, and I suspect it was Whittington's attempt at writing a best-selling novel.  I read a ton of such novels in the late '50s and early '60s, and this one would fit right in.  In some ways it follows the formula that Whittington used in most of his work.  The protagonist is a doctor named Gordon Hillway, and Whittington gets him in trouble at the start before piling more and more and more trouble on him.

Hillway is a fine surgeon, one of the best, yet he's accused of malpractice when the wife of Herman "Pal" Pilzer dies after Hillway does a routine surgery on her.  Her death isn't Hillway's fault, but some of the surgical team has niggling doubts.  Pilzer is rich, powerful, and politically connected, and he decides to destroy Hillway and the hospital.  He files a huge malpractice suit.  Besides this, Hillway and his wife have serious marital problems, and Hillway has been drinking heavily.  Things don't look good.

Also figuring into the story are other doctors and nurses like Frank Leslie*, whose problems have a lot to do with sex and alcohol; Robert Corson, who has money difficulties; Merle Walker, the Chief of Staff, who has his own medical problems; Ann Shaffer, who tries to do what she believe is right and later regrets it; and Elmer Blaisdell, who sells out the hospital and his own profession for position and power.

There's a lot of medical stuff in the book, and it's all quite convincing.  The amount of research that must have been involved is staggering.  The same is true of the courtroom material.  The characters are vivid and memorable.  The theme is a big one, dealing as it does with the ethics of the medical profession.  The closing chapters get into highly melodramatic territory, but Whittington was always good at that.

The novel reads like a historical novel now, and some of the attitudes (especially some of them toward sex) might turn off a contemporary reader, but the book is compelling reading from first to last (as usual with Whittington), and a good editor could easily whip it into shape.  Until someone does, it will remain a forgotten book, and I'll remain one of its few readers.

*Pete Brandvold, take note.


Peter Brandvold said...

Another Frank Leslie with problems with sex and alcohol!

Damn, what a find, Bill. Any chance someone will publish it? My heart was in my throat, reading this.

Unknown said...

I don't know if it will ever be published, but I'll keep you posted.

Ben Boulden said...

I hope it finds a publisher.

George said...

Maybe STARK HOUSE would be interested!

Jeff Meyerson said...

Too bad. It sounds really good.