Goldstone tries hard to pull together his thematically convoluted story about the rampant use of patient medicines in turn-of-the-century New York, where hundreds of children died and many thousands more developed addictions. Unfortunately, although he covers all the key points as dictated by history (most notably the radical socialist movement), Golstone tells mostly rather than shows. The resultant story is a bit tedious rather than illuminating, convoluted rather than clear-sighted. As in your typical historical saga, the narrative centers on Dr. Noah Whitestone, a young man who is called to the home of wealthy socialite Mildred Anschutz. He's been ordered to come quickly. Her five-year-old son, Willard, is terribly ill with stomach pain. Time of the essence. Noah realizes that he must act swiftly and decisively. Although Mildred considers Noah too young and inexperienced, she's desperate. Willard's skin is pale, almost translucent. He is drenched in perspiration and wracked with tremors. Everything confirms the initial, if incredible diagnosis.
Called to a tenement on Montague Street and to the home of his second patient, aging widow Thea Harpin, Noah is plagued by visions of a helpless woman in childbirth, hemorrhaging in shock, and the baby, Oliver, already dead, along with his wife, Isobel. From two sets of dark eyes--one holding the innocence of youth the other the innocence of trust--Noah fixes Isobel's face in immutable and eternal memory. When Willard dies, Noah refuses to be held responsible. Surely the boy could not have perished from two drops of laudanum? Did Noah blunder, misinterpret? Did he make a hasty assumption?
Noah is pragmatic, taught to avoid any personal involvement while treating with "the head and not the heart." Noah is impassioned, yet as a son of a doctor, he must pay his dues. He's also preoccupied by impending marriage to society lady Maribeth and by the memories of dear, beautiful, ethereal Isobel, "the face that would no longer age." In desperation, Noah confesses to his father, Abel Whitestone, that a patient died in his care and that the child's mother believes he is responsible for the death. Noah is convinced that Willard died of morphia toxicity: "You know that as well as I, if it wasn't laudanum, it must have been something else." He did not give poor Willard three drops of laudanum in error, yet according to Abel it would be foolish to expect Dr. Frias, the Anschutz's regular doctor, to accept responsibility. Perhaps it was something Frias prescribed?
Goldstone fills in the rest of Noah's story by putting him in charge of discovering that Dr. Frias had indeed been testing a new type of tablet. Together with chemist Martin H. Smith, Frias formulated an elixir that is making him quite a bit of money. Here, too, we get a dull sense of Noah's sense of duty and how he struggles to do what he must in terms of moral righteousness. After learning that other children have died from infection, Noah calls on Dr. De Kuyper at the pediatric ward of the Brooklyn Hospital. He learns that money is moving everywhere--not just in the halls of government, but through a medical profession where doctors accept handsome rewards from drug manufacturers to prescribe products without actually knowing what is in them.
Goldstone's does well describing New York on the cusp of modernity. The cobblestone streets are framed by electric lighting instead of gas; office buildings are now brick instead of wood; and wires hang overhead for the electric trolley. There's still the evidence of horse traffic, as well as the smell of brackish water and garbage. The most interesting character is Miriam, a reporter at a socialist magazine. A believer in free-love, Miriam lectures Noah on the hypocrisy of the rich and powerful and how they talk about the rule of law while refusing to follow it. Goldstone sometimes has trouble with Noah's stodginess, a trait that overwhelms his sense of loyalty. His desire for Miriam is unleashed by his gentlemanly desires and by Pug Anschutz, a killer whose crimes are excused perhaps because he wears a uniform while committing them.
Goldstone illuminates a great capitalist conspiracy that is rife with "heartless, venal profiteers" who pursue great wealth while leaving a trail of dead children in their wake. Unfortunately, in his attempt to merge storytelling with historical detail, Goldstone packs so much into his plot that any sense of it being a work of literary fiction is leached away. I can't say I can recommend Deadly Cure even though the author obviously went to great lengths to research period detail, the corruption of the pharmaceutical companies, and the crooked politicians who support them.