Dutch Island: This adventure comes from the heart
PORTSMOUTH — Trouble is brewing out on Dutch Island.
A hatchet murderer is on the loose and an oil baron has startling plans for this peaceful 82 acres on the far side of Jamestown. Never mind what the owners think, it would be just the place, he's decided, to build a mega-mosque.
Thrust into the the middle of the intrigue is a Water Street, Portsmouth, couple — Rick Weeden, a Parkinson's disease patient, and his devoted wife Betty.
So goes the new mystery novel Dutch Island, just released by Portsmouth writer Curt Weeden. It's thrilling, funny, but not so farfetched. Dutch Island is about people and places Mr. Weeden knows well.
The Weeden family — 20 generations or so ago — once owned Dutch Island, and during the Revolution, the British ransacked the family's Jamestown home.
And heroes Rick and Betty Weeden are the real thing. Rick is author Curt Weeden's brother and Betty is Rick's wife. A Portsmouth resident and former Raytheon engineer, Rick does indeed battle Parkinson's, a 30-year ordeal through which Betty, retired director of surgical services at Newport Hospital, has steadfastly stood by his side.
It may be 'comedic mystery,' says Curt Weeden, but "woven through the fiction are historical facts, unsettling medical truths and a real-life tale of profound love and courage."
Through the couple's perils and trials, Mr. Weeden manages to describe his brother's challenges.
At one point, as Rick is being held at gunpoint — "Two things happened at once. First, Rick Weeden's right leg jerked straight out and struck a small table. It was a spastic, involuntary movement called dyskinesia common to many Parkinson's patients. But to (the gunman), it was a threat. He swung the gun toward Rick ..."
Later, as they hide out at Portsmouth's Melville Campgrounds — a good place for an RV to blend in, Betty tells an ally a bit of what her husband endures.
"'Getting the words out is hardly the worst of it,' she said, and explained how tremors, stiff muscles, and drooling made Rick's life a living hell. 'But it's the hallucinations, depression and anxiety that turn everything into a nightmare.'
'I can't imagine what that must be like,' I had reacted. 'With everything he's dealing with, Rick manages a smile. He's pretty amazing.' As is his wife, I thought."
He's a novelist now but Curt Weeden is a retired vice president for Johnson & Johnson. In an even earlier career he got his writing start with the East Bay Newspapers — as a reporter for the Bristol Phoenix and editor of the Warren Times.
Call this book a "novel twist" to fundraising. Proceeds from Dutch Island will be donated to the National Parkinson Foundation (NPF).
"This is a really fascinating, unusual book that is part fiction, part history lesson and part testimonial to Parkinson's patients and their families," says Joyce Oberdorf, NPF president and CEO.
Adds Bernie Fogel, MD, dean emeritus at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine and NPF board chair, "The couple's story-ending heroics are memorable, but their day-to-day lives are even more inspiring."
In the book's forward, Dr. Fogel (whose own father suffered from Parkinson's) writes, "What Dutch Island says the most about Parkinson's is just how powerful human relationships can be when dealing with the disease. In the novel and in real life, Rick's
connection to Betty is what keeps him moving forward."
Uninhabited, with its lighthouse, military ruins and rich history, Dutch Island is the perfect backdrop for mystery and mayhem, Curt Weeden says.
It, like Rick and Betty Weeden, is "far from illusory. Yes, the couple's encounters at the close of the novel are fabricated. But the everyday challenges met and overcome by these two remarkable people are no less heroic. Theirs is a true story about how misfortune can be trumped by determination and devotion."
The couple's actual young lives together got off to a promising start — good jobs, nice home in Portsmouth, young daughter. But at age 33, Rick Weeden got the diagnosis. Given that there was no family history of Parkinson's, it was a bolt out of the blue.
One theory suggested by doctors is that the disease might be linked to a college incident. During his junior year, Rick got caught in a campus brawl. Trying to keep a girl from getting hurt, he suffered a serious head injury.
"The possibility that this could be a 'Muhammad Ali" effect where a severe concussion as the precursor to PD," is being considered.
For all the misery it has produced, Parkinson's has another ironic side effect, Curt Weeden writes.
"It can also magnify what's good and right. It takes but a few minutes with Betty and Rick to discover that this cruel disease gives definition to self-sacrifice, incredible resilience and unconditional love."
— Curt Weeden is also the author of the novel Book of Nathan, and the non fiction Smart Giving Is Good Business, How Women Can Beat errorism, and Corporate Social Investing. He also speaks nationally on philanthropy and social responsibility issues and trends. Copies of Dutch Island are available are area bookstores and through Amazon.com.