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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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REVIEW: Wishes and Stitches by Rachel Herron

REVIEW: Wishes and Stitches by Rachel Herron

Dear Ms. Herron,

A few years ago it seems quilting in romance books was all the rage. Now it appears that knitting has taken over. I’ve resisted reading any of these books since I’m not a knitter but in my quest to expand my single title contemporary repertoire, I decided to take the plunge with your book “Wishes and Stitches” since it features an outsider heroine who’s also a doctor. I figured that way, she’s got some other interests besides yarn.

Wishes and Stitches by Rachel HerronNaomi Fontaine had a great time at a recent medical conference which included a hot night with a handsome fellow attendee. Thinking she’d probably not ever see him again, she let it all loose and both had a night to remember. So when Rig Keller shows up in the small town of Cedar Hollow, CA where Naomi practices Family Medicine (GP), she’s shocked. Her next stunner is when she discovers that her pretty much absentee partner is selling out and that Rig is taking his place in the practice.

Rig, so called because up til now he’s practiced on the Gulf oil rigs, enjoyed the time he spent with Naomi at the conference and has no intention of not pursuing a relationship with her now that they’re living in the same town and seeing each other on a day to day basis. But he can’t seem to figure her out. The warm, confident woman of That Night is not who he’s seeing. Yes, she’s an excellent doctor but outside of work, she keeps a tight rein on her emotions and doesn’t appear to want to let him back into her private life.

Her secret is that Naomi desperately wants to be a part of her new community but a natural reserve keeps her from just jumping into town life. Rig, on the other hand, seems right at home with a long established brother in the community. If he presses for more from her, will Naomi open up personally and professionally? And if she does, is Rig ready and willing to commit to a future together?

Good God the people of this town love to knit. Rig calls it correctly when he says something to the effect that this is the knittingest town he’s ever seen. I wonder if the townsfolk would shun someone because that person – gasp! – crochets or, worse, merely sews or scrapbooks? Is there a roadblock at the edge of town to check for balls of yarn before a person is allowed within the city limits? I like characters with outside interests beyond sex or their jobs but this borders on obsession.

Naomi Fontaine is reserved to the point of almost being an emotional stone wall in the face of others yet she’s got such a deep well of need to fit in and be accepted. That plus the fact that this is a small, blue collar town whose townsfolk feel a social gulf between themselves and the doctor don’t help her to fit in and be welcomed with open arms. Rig has an “in” since his brother has lived there for years and is an accepted part of the community. And he’s also a more “open” personality. Meanwhile, Naomi has spent her childhood and most of her adulthood, on getting good grades in order to fulfill her lifelong goal of being a doctor with little time spent socializing outside of those in her profession. Her difficulties in small talk and being part of the crowd might seem exaggerated but they also feel poignant and serve to show the glass wall between Naomi and what she wants – to be accepted.

Naomi’s got some baggage in the persons of her younger and – in Naomi’s mind – favored sister Anna and her mother with whom Naomi has never gotten along. These issues don’t feel made up or too far fetched. A lifetime of this also helps shade in the details on why Naomi would feel as if she’s trying but not getting anywhere with the people of Cedar Hollow. The flashes of anger Naomi shows when Anna appears on her doorstep expecting Naomi to fix the mess Anna has made of her life show that Naomi isn’t a pushover. The fact that Naomi doesn’t just tell Anna to take a hike show that deep down, she does love her sister but this time it’s going to be tough love.

Despite the fact that Rig is apparently more self assured than Naomi doesn’t count for much in their relationship. The book starts off with them already having met and spent a night of hot sexing at a medical conference and it’s Rig who spends the book chasing after Naomi while coaxing her into a repeat of the best sex of his life. This is a neat turn on the usual heroine who is shy of and bumbling at sex with a cool, confident hero. The Big Mis, when it came, arrived out of Naomi and Rig’s profession and seemed relevant to who they are and how they see themselves – plus a healthy dollop of family love. It takes Rig a little while to get over what happens but as he does, he comes to a greater and deeper understanding of this woman he loves.

I loved the humorous scenes scattered throughout the story. The one of Naomi running into Rig’s father Frank – in the condom aisle of the local pharmacy store – when Frank knows Naomi and Rig are about to go out on a date, had me in stitches – sorry bad pun. The men of the Keller clan were fun to read about and such…well, men. Of the two secondary romances, Frank’s worked better for me than the quickie of Rig’s brother Jake. That one is just too fast though the fact that both Keller brothers end the book happily living in sin at the instigation of their ladies is cool with me.

I will admit to a partiality for books with the hero chasing after his heroine so on that score, the romance in this one works for me. What I got tired of is the almost cult like mania for knitting. If this is a reader’s craft of choice then they’ll probably be happier while reading about it but for those uninterested in it – like me – it felt like a cup of Kool Aid along with a pair of knitting needles was being pressed on me by a group eerily smiling people. C+

~Jayne

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