Stranger than fiction

Published 11:59 pm Friday, December 12, 2008

Local author Les Roberts truly believes the old axiom that “truth is stranger than fiction.”

Roberts’ book, The Poison Plum, is a fictional account, but deals with several real life issues and places, such as Lyme disease and the U.S. government operated Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York.

“The plot is that a single mom graduates from UAB and gets offered a nice job in a government laboratory,” said Roberts, who has lived in Covington County for 35 years. “She accepts this job working at Plum Island and life is grand, until her little 8-year-old son gets sick and the doctors can’t figure out what’s wrong.

“Some of the people in her church suggest the origin of her son’s sickness was the laboratory on Plum Island. Her anger is such that she’s got to go into work and find out what’s really going on.”

Roberts’ book suggests the strain of Lyme disease was developed as a biological weapon at the Plum Island facility, before being accidentally released into the general public. It is a notion that Roberts believes is not completely far fetched.

Lyme disease is named for the town of Lyme, Conn., which is located only about 10 miles away from the Plum Island Animal Disease Center. The disease was first discovered in the towns of Lyme and Old Lyme in 1975, and it has been speculated that the laboratory may have been the source of the illness’s outbreak.

Roberts was drawn to write the book because he is a sufferer of Lyme disease. He first discovered that he was sick in the mid-1990s, and visited 23 different specialists before determining through self-diagnosis that he had the disease.

“I was sick for a while with some heart problems and the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong, so I started mega-dosing on vitamins and minerals,” he said. “I got better, slowly over a period of time. But then in 1998, I started to have the heart problems again, as well as meningitis and encephalitis. Again, the doctors couldn’t come up with anything, so I got all over the Internet looking for something and decided that it seemed like Lyme disease.

“At the time, there was a professor at (Lurleen B. Wallace Community College) who had Lyme disease. We got together and compared symptoms and mine were a mirror image of his.”

Roberts explained that at one time he was so weakened by the disease that he lost 53 pounds. Since then, he has been using antibiotics to treat the disease, but even after beginning treatment he continued to be curious about from where the disease may have come.

“I had done some research and knew about Plum Island,” he said. “One day, I was sitting on my deck just contemplating my plight, and the basic plot for the book came right into my head within five minutes. I didn’t want to write a book, but the idea just would not leave my head. So I started writing the thing and put it together, and now it’s done.”

Roberts said the book took about three years to write and drew on several of his own real-life experiences. It is available from and other online retailers.

“I wanted to put this story in a fiction format,” Roberts said. “There have been articles and books written that suggest the laboratory is the (source of Lyme disease), but I wanted to do something different. I’m trying to get the message to the masses. If you put information like that in a suspenseful format, then the average person might be tempted to read it and the message gets out there.”

Roberts is a retired businessman who founded the Roberts and Roberts Brokerage, Inc., investment firm in Pensacola, Fla. He is married to Sandra Roberts and they have two daughters, Leslie Glisson of Andalusia and Connie Summerford of Houston, Texas.