Heartbreaking and Truly Terrifying.
I was sitting around the supper table with my family discussing theories about the Salem Witch Trials. The ergot theory was put forward, and I dismissed it, largely because of the scale: hundreds of people accused, tortured, and tried over more than a year, but also because the initial accusers would roll around on the floor in seeming fits but immediately recover, and none of them suffered anything like an actual injury during those supposed fits. Then the Spouse mentions that French town, you know...
I did not know. I had never previously heard of the book nor the incident it describes in well-researched, well-documented, and well-communicated detail. In August of 1951 some three hundred people in and around Pont-Saint-Esprit in Provence, France were poisoned. It was a horrible accident that killed five people,hospitalized more than a hundred, and caused many to suffer lasting debilitation.
As a medical mystery, it is enthralling. All the local GPs as well as the large number of treating physicians from the nearest largest cities agreed they were seeing an event out of history a mass poisoning due to ergot. They had to look in history books to get treatment ideas.
Then there's the legal mystery: who are what will be blamed and have to pay? The investigators had quickly found the suspect flour, but then there were years of examining the evidence. The police couldn't accept the ergot theory because the volatile alkaloids disappeared too quickly and too completely. There was literally no evidence. The legal wrangling that followed lasted a decade.
It's a fascinating book for those interested in medical or historical mysteries. Fuller is thorough in his recounting, but never boring. Since I didn't have Truly Terrifying, I took advantage of that black dust jacket for