TTP Review of FEVER by Mary Beth Keane

I’m not sure why but, although I’d certainly heard of Typhoid Mary, I never thought much about her. I never, for example, wondered who she was, where she came from or what she did to make her so famous. I didn’t even know her real name. That was before I read Fever by Mary Beth Keane and I’ve been thinking about poor Mary Mallon ever since.

Fever_book cover Yes, Typhoid Mary’s real name was Mary Mallon and she was the first known healthy carrier of the typhoid virus. She was born in Ireland and moved to America at the age of fifteen. Like many immigrants living in New York City at the turn of the twentieth century, she found work as a domestic, starting out as a laundress but soon discovering she had a real knack for cooking. She was employed by several wealthy families, and left her mark everywhere she went. Many of those she worked for ended up sick or even dead. In time, Mary was tracked down, apprehended, and forced to spend the next three years quarantined on North Brother Island in the East River. She was eventually released on condition she never again cooked for anyone other than herself. Mary did what she was told… at least for a little while.

Keane paints Mary Mallon as a vivid, strong-willed, charismatic and even sympathetic character. You can’t help but feel for her, caring for her alcoholic boyfriend while trying to make her way in the world. It also becomes clear she never knowingly or willingly harmed anyone. She was used to sickness and death because she’d seen it her whole life. Therefore, it wasn’t alarming or unusual when those around her suddenly became ill. Mary was a hard worker and cooking not only made her happy but provided for her far better than any other job she could get. Unfortunately, it was also the one thing she was told she could not do. She didn’t understand that and didn’t think it was fair. Eventually, her determination and ignorance bring her back to the kitchen where the deadly cycle begins all over again.

Fever is a fascinating, illuminating narrative of Typhoid Mary, her life and her various personal struggles. In addition to her insightful portrayal of her main character, author Mary Beth Keane gives her readers a startling look at turn of the century New York City, especially as it relates to the working class. If you’re a fan of quality historical fiction, this is definitely one to add to your must read list.


If you like what you’ve read, please subscribe to this blog or my Wishful Thinking blog, in which I share samples of my work, publish some original short fiction, discuss the trials and tribulations of trying to make it as a new novelist, and from September to February, talk lots and lots of football. Visit, or find me on Facebook, and on Twitter @Micsova. Also, please pick up a copy of A SHOT AT REDEMPTION, my debut mystery novel.  

Skip to toolbar