I wasn’t really sure what to expect with this one.
But I really enjoyed it.
I’m a sucker for a bit of Victorian or Edwardian style, the works of Jules Verne, Arthur Conan-Doyle and H.G. Wells. Not only that, I write Steampunk adventures, which, while they may be set in a land of my own devising, definitely take place in the same sort of setting and atmosphere as those times.
Back then, there was an air of unlimited possibility, yet at the same time, society was incredibly rigid, bound to a system where if you were male you were automatically advantaged, no matter your capability.
That’s where this story starts.
June 1910. Fighting her corner in a man’s world, Dr Margaret Demeray works as a pathologist in a London hospital for the poor. Suppressing her worry that she’s breaching confidentiality, Margaret gives a stranger called Fox information about a dead down-and-out, in the hope he’ll use it to raise awareness of bad working conditions. But when a second man appears to die the same way, Margaret starts to wonder why the enigmatic Fox keeps turning up to ask ever more complex questions. She decides to work alone, uncertain of his motives and wary of her attraction to him. Once she starts investigating however, her home is burgled, she’s attacked in broad daylight and a close friend becomes distant. Fox offers the chance to forge an alliance, saying he knows why the men have died but needs her to find out what is killing them and who is behind it. Yet how come the closer she gets to him the more danger she faces? And how can a memory she’d buried possibly be linked to the deaths? Margaret must discover the truth before someone – known or unknown – silences her for good.
Margaret Demeray is a doctor in Edwardian England, but not just any doctor. She’s a pathologist, as well as being a woman in a man’s world. It’s not the best situation but she doesn’t let that stop her. There’s a mystery to solve and it involves some things that are very close to home.
There’s a danger in writing about the past that you use modern language and social attitudes, I’m very pleased to report that Paula Harmon avoids these pitfalls and has produced an authentic tale of the period. It oozes the sense of the times, the casual misogyny, the poverty and the sense of hopelessness and exploitation of the general populace.
When Margaret performs an autopsy on a nobody, she finds evidence of unusual demise. As she looks for answers, she finds out a lot more than she expected. She’s a person who cares for the plight of the poor, in a world where they are seen as dispensable, which makes her even more of an oddity.
She has to deal with threats against her, the machinations of her peers, and the mysterious Fox. Never quite sure who is on her side, she proves herself more than capable of holding her own, even when physical violence is necessary.
This is a very cleverly written story, with a fantastic ending, paving the way for a sequel, which I’m looking forward to reading.
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