Enter a brilliant surgeon who says exactly what he thinks, no matter whom it offends. He’s almost always right on his controversial diagnoses and drives his fellow doctors mad with his insistence that things be done the right way. He drinks too much sometimes, has few friends, and never, ever suffers fools. But this is not Dr. Gregory House. This is Dr. Jonathan Ferrier, a beleaguered genius who, though acquitted of his pretty wife’s grisly death, is still held accountable for it by many of Hambledon’s citizens in Taylor Caldwell’s A Testimony of Two Men.
Hambledon, Pennsylvania, in 1901 is a small town full of fine, upstanding people and a veritable matrix of malice. Dr. Ferrier has had enough of the place and is packing his bags to light out for the territories—or a big city, or anywhere, really, as long as it isn’t Hambledon. Enter Dr. Robert Morgan, as well-meaning and wet-behind-the-ears as any of House’s famous team. He’s the chosen man, the replacement who’s to buy out Dr. Ferrier’s practice. Is it because he, too, is a budding genius who has impressed Ferrier with his surgical wizardry and diagnostic discoveries? No, in Dr. Ferrier’s words, it is simply because he is the least likely of the candidates to do harm.
When obtaining medical services at the turn of the last century, it was almost a coin toss as to whether a patient would receive reasonably good care or be tended to with far less concern than a workaday vet would give to prize-winning cattle. Asepsis—maintaining a germ-free environment—wasn’t often practiced by the older doctors who might go in their dusty frock coats from the morgue to the operating room without washing their hands. Yet these doctors were so well-respected that only very rarely would a death be questioned. There were certainly no attorneys promoting malpractice suits. For too many established doctors, a medical diploma was a license to kill.
Dr. Ferrier was born and raised in sweet and scenic Hambledon. Lots of money, a fine, old family, and noble calling should have been enough to make for a happy life. But Jonathan Ferrier, who is usually so good at assessing his patients, has made some nearly fatal mistakes in judging those closest to him, including his laughing and lovely wife, lazy, handsome brother and beautiful, young Jenny, his “niece” by marriage who everyone in town knows is a slut.
He also misjudges his enemies. The doctor has not been above using his keen perception to blackmail the powerful into doing good deeds with no thought or care as to their eventual revenge. But their day is coming, and the doctor’s cruel and fearless words will be the fuel that drives them to seek his destruction.