FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Date: April 5, 2002
Contact: Donna McCracken, 206-6716
UIS professor's new book combines mystery with history
SPRINGFIELD – It is October 1918. An epidemic of Spanish Influenza is killing millions around the globe. World War I is still raging in Europe. And in Duluth, Minnesota, a disastrous fire leaves thousands more dead or homeless and threatens the city’ very existence. Amid these catastrophic events, a single suspicious death comes to light. This is the setting for All Fall Down, a new novel by Robert Kuhn McGregor, professor of History at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
The protagonist is George Morris, a wounded veteran and flu survivor, who returns home to resume an interrupted career as sergeant on the Duluth police force. However, in the wake of the flu pandemic, Morris becomes a troubleshooter for the city health commissioner and, while organizing a burial detail, discovers a corpse who could not possibly have died from the disease. Should Morris ignore this one death among so many? Where does his duty really lie?
McGregor says he conceived the story as a metaphor for the twentieth century. “To me, the ‘Great War’ unleashed all the irrationalities that define the century,” he explained. “The war exposed western civilization’s misplaced faith in its own rational progress, while the Spanish flu reminded people of their own fragility. For the United States, it was our first real experience as a world power, and one many Americans found deeply troubling. Reading the history of the times, you can’t help but feel that everyone went a little crazy. The book reflects that insecurity.”
While this is McGregor’s first published work of fiction, it is not his first book dealing with the impact World War I had on society. Two years ago, he and colleague Ethan Lewis, associate professor of English at UIS, published Conundrums for the Long Weekend: England, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Lord Peter Wimsey. That book examined how Sayers used her fictional hero to comment on and come to terms with the social upheaval that took place between the first and second world wars. Conundrums subsequently received an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America.
Though McGregor is a historian by profession, and even though the larger events it recounts are true, All Fall Down is not, strictly speaking, historical fiction. “I’m not a fan of historical fiction in the sense that I don’t like to recreate actual historical events, putting words in the mouths of actual personages,” he said. “I’ve tried to recreate the time period and the setting as people would have found Duluth in 1918. All of the people in the story are fictional characters participating in the nightmare reality.
“I wrote this book as a kind of combined mystery and history tale for those who would not normally choose academic history as their night-time reading,” he adds. “More than anything, I hope people will look at the past in a creative fashion. It’s pretty sobering stuff.”
McGregor says he spent about two years planning the story, six months writing the first draft, and another year refining it. In the process he received “valuable criticism” from Lewis and another colleague, Karen Moranski, also an associate professor of English at UIS, and especially from his wife, Deborah Kuhn McGregor, an associate professor of history and women’s studies. “Nothing I write leaves the computer without her blessing,” he quips.
In addition to Conundrums, McGregor is the author of A Wider View of the Universe: Henry Thoreau’s Study of Nature.
All Fall Downwas published in December 2001 by America House.