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REVIEW: The Anatomy of Death (aka A Dissection of Murder)...

“At the turn of the twentieth century, London’s political climate is in turmoil, as women fight for the right to vote. Dody McCleland has her own battles to fight. As England’s first female autopsy surgeon, she must prove herself as she proves that murder treats everyone equally.

After a heated women’s rights rally turns violent, an innocent suffragette is found murdered. When she examines the body, Dody McCleland is shocked to realize that the victim was a friend of her sister – fuelling her determination to uncover the cause of the protestor’s suspicious death.

For Dody, gathering clues from a body is often easier than handling the living – especially Chief Detective Inspector Pike. Pike is looking to get to the bottom of this case but has a hard time trusting anyone-including Dody. Determined to earn Pike’s trust and to find the killer, Dody will have to sort through real and imagined secrets. But if she’s not careful, she may end up on her own examination table.”

 

Dear Ms. Young,

Is this to be the start of a new series? It seems like it and may I be selfishly honest and say that I hope so. I’ve got to get a replacement for my historical forensic mystery fix since Ariana Franklin’s death.

anatomyofdeathThe story is chock full of lots of details about the time, place and events. I know a little about the British women’s suffragette movement but not much. The background info you provide is greatly appreciated and I think you accomplished easing it into the narrative without coming to a full stop to do so. I have to agree with Mrs. McClelland, Dody’s mother, that rights are fought for by the rich and privileged while food is the main worry of the poor and downtrodden. Lord love us with a father like Mr. McClelland.

Pike could have been written as a man with moody angst but instead he buttons it all up and holds it in. I think he’d be almost embarrassed to be seen as angstful, much like going outdoors in nothing but his drawers. He’s got just enough opposition and problems to deal with on the force balanced with his sense of purpose and seeking justice and the truth. I totally believe that he’s the kind of man who would feel ashamed of any tiny infraction so when he hides evidence that would show his own daughter is a wannabe suffragette, I feel his inner conflict over it. Chief Inspector Shepherd is a piggish “keep women in their places” type but Pike appears to know how to get around him and his roadblocks. I would hate to think that Churchill was in on all the police violence at the rally. Pike’s also human – he doesn’t always know how to get along with and speak to his teenage daughter and enjoys a night playing piano at the local pub. It all makes him more human to me and to Dody, once she learns all this.

Dody is strong minded enough to get through medical school and find a speciality that would accept her but practical about not rocking the medical boat. She’s also got her doubts about the tactics of the suffragette movement and the lengths toward which they’re headed. She keeps her head down and forges on, remaining as invisible as she can in order to get as far as she is able. One problem I had with her backstory was that I felt as if I stepped in halfway through Dody’s off again romance with Rupert the weenie. Frankly, I wasn’t sorry to see him go early in the story. Dody also has to contend with her fiery sister Florence who is totally on board with the more militant suffragettes who are ready to seek the advice of Fennians and resort to outright violence to further their cause and gain notoriety.

Dody and Pike are both outsiders – she because of her gender and her, frankly, cuckoo family while Pike was not a gentleman who rose to be an officer in the Army only to have that held against him in the Met. But they’re both truth seekers who don’t shirk from dirty work even if it’s hard to do and hard on them. They start to work together even before they realize it – each determined to get to the bottom of Lady Catherine Cartwright’s death and “helping” each other along by turning a blind eye to “after hours” sleuthing. Even if she doesn’t entirely trust him as a police officer and he is appalled at the suffragette movement. Each takes a sly dig at the other – he in presenting her with the details of the execution of Dr. Crippen and she in daring him to watch the forced feeding of the hunger striking women. Yet they’re both fighters, in their own way, determined to make a difference.

Forensic and police investigational science have certainly progressed and the conditions under which Dody and Pike have to work certainly highlights it. There definitely won’t be any Forensic Files type case cracking here. Nevertheless it’s all fascinating to read about and again shows how keen Pike and Dody are to take advantage of whatever might help them solve cases.

I have a silly question. Would an aristocratic family have the last name of Cartwright? Wouldn’t that be a laborer’s last name?

I tend to agree with Dody that slow but steady and not blowing up things is the way to seek positive social change but given the attitude of some of the men, it’s hard not to see how the more militant suffragettes arrived at their beliefs. Most of the secondary female characters served to illustrate one aspect or another of how the law still favored men even with the easier divorces now available. Dody’s dreary rounds at the hospital – dealing with women who died of septicemia from botched abortions or helping women suffering from the delivery their tenth child in that many years – showed another side of how hard it was to be a woman then. Even jail privileges are unequal. One thing that I realized early on was that due to the setting of the book (1910) I had to tamp down my disappointment that it wasn’t going to be in this book that the vote was won.

The mystery of who killed Lady Catherine is more something that propels other things in the plot than the main focus of it all yet I, along with Pike and Dody, still wanted to know the answer. And the answer is a wee bit anti climactic and soap opera-ish. The villain turns out to be one of those who change fairly quickly and suddenly start foaming at the mouth before conveniently spouting off about why they did what they did. Still the final section of the story unfolds in a way that slowly and relentlessly cranks up the tension. I knew what was coming and was still quickly flipping pages as Florence got deeper into trouble while Dody and Pike raced to save her.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I hope to see more of this series and am excited that you’ve chosen to set it during such a tumultuous era. Pike and Dody have caught my attention as professionals as well as – perhaps in the distant future – possible romantic partners. Only time will tell. B

~Jayne

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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

15 Comments

  1. Nalini Singh
    May 24, 2012 @ 04:45:32

    Wonderful review, Jayne. As another fan of Ariana Franklin, I’m looking forward to checking this out.

    An FYI to Aus/NZ readers – the book appears to have a different title here: “A Dissection Of Murder”

  2. Anachronist
    May 24, 2012 @ 06:21:31

    I have a silly question. Would an aristocratic family have the last name of Cartwright? Wouldn’t that be a laborer’s last name?

    A great question I would ask myself if only I was more clever! I might want to read that one, thanks for the review!

  3. Jayne
    May 24, 2012 @ 07:06:21

    @Nalini Singh: And the cover is quite different as well. That one looks like more of a cozy mystery type book instead of the “woman in possible peril” image of the US one.

  4. Jayne
    May 24, 2012 @ 07:08:35

    @Anachronist: I suppose the family might be jumped up cits from the previous century but it just struck me as odd.

  5. Maili
    May 24, 2012 @ 08:31:54

    “I have a silly question. Would an aristocratic family have the last name of Cartwright? Wouldn’t that be a laborer’s last name?”

    I’m not sure why would you think that, to be honest. It’s a lot more “real” to me because there were, and still are, more British aristocratic families with ordinary – or as you put it, labourer-type – surnames than those with unusual or foreign surnames.

    At least it’s lot more real to me than the likes of Blakemore, Rotherstone, Kilburn, Blackthorn and all other crazy “aristocratic” surnames authors come up with. :D Or in some cases, when they go for extremely well-known established surnames like Asquith (this is like giving their hero or heroine Rockefeller as their surname).

  6. Cara Ellison
    May 24, 2012 @ 09:20:24

    I just bought this on the basis of the review. Can’t wait to read it!

  7. Isobel Carr
    May 24, 2012 @ 09:39:04

    I have a silly question. Would an aristocratic family have the last name of Cartwright? Wouldn’t that be a laborer’s last name?

    There are knights with that surname dating back to at least the 18th century (as well as MPs and even an ambassador). No reason one of them couldn’t or wouldn’t have been raised to the peerage.

  8. Maili
    May 24, 2012 @ 10:00:31

    @Isobel Carr: Let’s not forget some English families acquired certain names through marriage. Or through double-barrelled names that would later be dumped in favour of one name.

    Example: a Appleton married a Jones, creating a double-barrelled name, like so: Appleton-Jones. A couple of decades later, it’d be – for whatever reason (usually for a political reason or to hide a social embarrassment) – halved in favour of Jones. So the aristocratic Appleton family becomes the aristocratic Jones family within a century or thereabouts.

    Oh, I do love the sometimes nutty history of family names. :D

  9. DS
    May 24, 2012 @ 11:12:43

    @Maili: Heyer used the names of towns and villages in the UK for the last names of her characters. I learned quite a bit about geography from that.

    OT thought, a science fiction writer used towns and areas in Ohio to name her characters. I can’t remember her name off hand because she wrote one good book then disappeared from the scene. However, it worked surprisingly well with characters named among others after Sandusky (town) and Darke (county). A little off kilter but familiar.

  10. Heidi Belleau
    May 24, 2012 @ 12:12:51

    Oh yay! I’ve been looking for a book to fill the hole in my heart left by Ariana Franklin, too. Adding this to my TBR pile! :) And may pick up a copy for my mother’s birthday, too, since she was a Mistress of the Art of Death fan, as well.

  11. Danielle
    May 24, 2012 @ 12:15:24

    A series, huh? I feel torn as I am generally allergic to those yet you make this one sound so good!

    “Would an aristocratic family have the last name of Cartwright? Wouldn’t that be a laborer’s last name?”

    For fun, had a look in a Debrett’s from 1910. No Cartwrights that I can see but, among the sons and daughters of peers, a Carter (fam. Hemphill) and a Wright (fam. Moncreiff). In the same glace I saw Carpenter, too (fams. Walsingham and Shrewsbury), not to mention the score of persons bearing a name that is a variation on Smith. Which all, of course, simply underlines what @Maili and @Isobel Carr have already pointed out. It’s rather nice to have an author create an aristocratic surname that seems historically apt in how it reflects social changes, isn’t it?

  12. Emily A.
    May 24, 2012 @ 17:52:54

    The devout Christie fan in me hopes Cartwright is a Three Act Tragedy ( AKA Murder in Three Acts) reference which has the detectives Poirot and Satterthwaite, and contains a character named Sir Charles Cartwright. I would not want to spoil the story any further, because it is one of Christie’s best books. I Highly recommend it. I don’t recommend the Masterpiece version as the ending was ruined, and the entire mystery with it.
    Anyway this looks very good, and something I would love to read.

  13. Jayne
    May 24, 2012 @ 18:53:17

    @Maili: @Danielle: @Isobel Carr: Well, cool! Thanks for the info regarding aristocratic last names. And Cartwright is so much easier to spell and pronounce than Ashby de la Zouche. ;)

  14. Marg
    May 26, 2012 @ 00:58:11

    I have been hearing plenty of good things about this book, but almost nothing in Australian blog circles which is a shame as she is an Australian author!

  15. Nicole
    Jun 04, 2012 @ 13:55:46

    I’ve got this coming from the library soon. Can’t wait to read it.

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