This sequel to HEART of CRUELTY started with my own move in 2017 from Britain to work as a doctor in Ireland, learning the ways of a new hospital system.
I read that Dublin in the 19th century, despite its unbearable burden of squalor and disease, had been a centre of excellence in medical innovation and education. Medicine is of course vastly improved since then, while better social conditions have brought better health and longer lives.
But some things don’t change. Working during the Covid pandemic I saw that, when faced with mass disaster, some governments responded more proactively than others. THE PIANO PLAYER is set in 1849, four years into the Great Irish Famine, when grants to the overwhelmed hospitals were cut. Central government forced the landlords to pay towards poor relief according to their tenant numbers. This led to mass evictions. Ireland suffered a loss of population to death and emigration from which she has not yet recovered.
Modern doctors face the same old dilemmas: in response to a suffering population, should a doctor knuckle down to work, or take political action? And how to identify medical malpractice, when the practice of medicine relies on trust among colleagues and between doctors and patients? Even harder in a pandemic, when standards may slip, and a there is a high fatality rate.
A final, age-old question: is it possible for a love that has been lost to be rekindled?
Woven into my story are the struggles of Irish nationalists, some race-fixing and a ruthless rack-rent landlord. There are glimpses of 'Speranza' (later Lady Jane Wilde), the Young Irelander Charles Gavan Duffy and the poet James Clarence Mangan, as well as a little known attempt on Queen Victoria during a state visit to Dublin.
It’s a tale of music and medicine, of trust and trickery, of destructive secrets and lost love. I hope you enjoy it.