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REVIEW:  The Anatomy of Death (aka A Dissection of Murder) by Felicity Young

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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What Sunita was reading in February

What Sunita was reading in February

January was kind of a bust for me, but I caught up in February. I’ve been trying to read further afield, going past the usual m/m and category and trying more historical romance. They didn’t all work perfectly, but I’ve no regrets in this batch.

Twice Fallen: Ladies in Waiting by Emma Wildes. I discovered Wildes when she was writing for smaller presses and really liked the relationships and the type of sensual/sex scenes she writes. I tried one of her major-publisher releases a while back but it didn’t work for me. This one did, for the most part. Wildes’ historical milieu is somewhat superficial, but she stays out of mistorical terroritory. This book is part of a series but I found it easy to read as a standalone. There are two romantic storylines, one between an unmarried Earl’s daughter and a Duke’s younger son, the other between the heroine’s cousin James and his mistress, who is an artist, an older woman, and illegitimate. There are a lot of standard romance ingredients in this novel, but Wildes does interesting things with them. For example, Lord Damien is a spy and Lord Lillian has a scandal in her past, but both plot points develop somewhat unexpectedly. There’s a mystery, but it doesn’t overwhelm the romance. Full review to come.

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Irregulars, by Nicole Kimberling et al. This is a paranormal anthology comprising four novellas that are set in the same universe, with characters that overlap slightly. The Irregulars are members of a NATO investigative division that keeps track of other-worldly beings who are on Earth out of choice or necessity. The stories, by Kimberling, Josh Lanyon, Astrid Amara, and Ginn Hale, feature goblins, elves, demons, humans and combinations thereof. Each story revolves around a mysterious death (or deaths) and a pair of protagonists who solve them, and they all have HEA or HFN endings. The worldbuilding is excellent across the board, and the characterizations are equally strong. The settings range up and down the West Coast, from Vancouver to Mexico City. For fans of these authors and of well-written gay romantic fiction more generally, this is a must-read. Full review to come.

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Sydney Harbor Hospital: Lily’s Scandal, by Marion Lennox. As readers of DA know, Marion Lennox is an autobuy for me, but this story didn’t work as well as hers usually do. The book is the first of the new Sydney Harbor continuity series in the Medical Romance line, and it has to introduce a lot of characters, including the recurring characters Finn Kennedy and Evie Lockheart. This installment centers on the romance of Luke Williams, a plastic surgeon, and Lily Ellis, a temporary nurse at the hospital. Lily is fleeing the fallout from her mother’s latest scandal, while Luke is avoiding romantic entanglements altogether after an unhappy marriage that ended in tragedy. They are thrown together in their work and personal lives, and they slowly, reluctantly fall in love. It may be that I’ve read too many Lennox romances in a row, because the characters felt overly familiar to me, and the writing style felt choppier and less compelling than usual. If you haven’t read Lennox as often, you are likely to enjoy it more. Luke and Lily are both engaging, realistically drawn characters, and the supporting cast is well done. I’m definitely reading the next installment in the series. Grade: B-

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Dauntsey Park, by Nicola Cornick. I bought this when it was first published as The Last Rake in London and dug it out of my TBR after the Downton Abbey discussion. I really wanted to like it, and the Edwardian setting seems very well done as far as I can tell. Unfortunately, I had a number of problems with the characters and the storyline. The heroine, Sally Bowes (I had a difficult time not picturing Liza Minnelli in Cabaret), runs a gambling house and takes care of her no-good younger sister and her perpetually broke suffragette sister. The hero, Jack Kestrel, confronts Sally when he’s looking for the Miss Howe who is blackmailing his seriously ill uncle. The pair go from insta-lust to fake engagement to insta-love in about three days, and there is way too much telling through internal monologues. Sally is a martyr who defends her sister beyond any reasonable point, Jack is only mildly rakish on the page, and the supporting characters are predictably stock. I liked the setting so much, but I wanted to knock sense into both the leads. Great idea, disappointing execution. Grade: C.

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Once a Ferrara Wife, by Sarah Morgan. Another autobuy author, but this time the story lived up to my expectations. From the first scene you know this is going to be an angsty ride, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I’m not big on full-on angst, but it is well motivated here; this is a marriage in trouble book and the storyline is about their paths back to each other. Laurel Ferrara and her billionaire hotelier husband, Cristiano, have been estranged for two years. When they meet again at his sister’s wedding, they are forced to revisit both their unresolved conflicts and their reignited attraction for each other. Laurel still hasn’t forgiven Cristiano for the crisis that drove them apart, and watching him comes to grips with what a true apology is, not to mention accepting responsibility for his mistakes, is something to behold. But Lauren isn’t blameless; she has to overcome her inability to trust anyone, even those she loves. Cristiano’s billions and Lauren’s business success are almost beside the point as we watch them try and forge a healthier relationship (although the usual Presents accoutrements certainly help the background scenery). The scenes where Cristiano thinks he is making huge strides while we (and Laurel) know they are inadequate are especially effective. My least favorite aspect of the novel was the epilogue, especially considering what had caused the rift in the first place, but I give props to Morgan for making it less predictable than usual. Grade: B

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Dark Soul, Vol. 2 by Aleksandr Voinov. I wasn’t sure what to expect after the thrill-ride of Volume 1, but Voinov maintains the intensity and the emotional complexity he established in the earlier episodes. These comprise two short stories that move both the plot and the relationship between Silvio and Stefano forward. The first story is basically an extended phone-sex episode between Silvio and his mentor/lover, Gianbattista, but that bare description can’t do justice to the emotion. The reader suspects this relationship is over, but there is still a strong attachment between the men, and the conversation and the sex are suffused with a bitter melancholy. Reading it is arousing but so very sad. The second story shifts gears and is more plot driven, as the Russians who have been threatening Silvio show up to challenge him. There is plenty of on-page violence and mayhem, expertly depicted, and the fallout from the confrontation has consequences for all the major and minor characters in the story. Silvio and Stefano share an intimate scene toward the end, about which I have mixed feelings. I think this is an It’s Not You It’s Me issue, but it didn’t work for me as well as everything else in the novella. Not that that stopped me from moving directly on to Vol. 3. Grade: B

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