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The Anatomy of Death (Dr. Dody McCleland Mystery) Paperback – 1 May 2012
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About the Author
Felicity Young has published several books in the United Kingdom and Australia. She lives on a small farm near Perth where she established a Suffolk sheep stud, reared orphan kangaroos and embarks upon a life of crime writing.
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On her return she is met with the news that a close friend of her younger sister Florence has been killed during a suffragette march on Whitehall for Votes for Women. Dody refuses to carry out the autopsy on Lady Catherine Cartwright and the case is handed to another surgeon but questions over who killed her remain and Dody is determined to find the answers.
Meanwhile Police Inspector Pike, who worked on the periphery of the investigation into whether Crippen had killed his wife, is under pressure from above to prove that Lady Catherine didn’t die at the hands of a brutal policeman. Whilst wary of the more militant of the suffragettes he firmly believes that the police should have behaved better at the march and is asking difficult questions. Between them can they solve the murder?
This book transported me back in time to the turn of the twentieth century, the descriptions of the march are vivid as are Florence’s recollection of being force-fed while on hunger strike in prison. The author walks a fine line in expressing the various views held in the population at the time including the fact that most of the militant suffragettes had the money and home comforts that enabled them to spend time plotting their next actions whilst the poorer women in England were already working outside the home just to keep a roof over the heads of their families. I like this style very much as I prefer it when authors allow me to read the book in context of the time it is depicted and make up my own mind. I imagine weaving true facts with fiction is actually very hard and the author admits that the first known female attendant to Spilsbury actually occurred a full decade later in 1920 but Felicity Young has created an immensely readable and authentic feeling novel. The mystery isn’t terribly complex, my main enjoyment was derived from the links to events that I already knew so that I was able to read this book in context.
Dody comes across as a very level-headed young woman although not immune to the lure of romance she isn’t one of the men-hating varieties of women, she clearly worships Bernard Spilsbury and is intensely loyal to her sister Florence despite not agreeing with the latter’s more militant stance. With a desire to do good without being preachy about it, the character is well-developed as is that of Pike’s. Coupled with a well-paced thought out plot, this book has clearly been well-researched, an absolute essential for a historical novel.
Anyway, I knew when I read the synopsis that I'd like it, and in this regard Felicity Young did not disappoint. It's a mild murder mystery, and you don't have to strain your brain too hard to understand who is the villain, but it's a curious take on the radical suffragettes in the beginning of 20th century, and here they are not painted in an inspiring light like it was in A Mad, Wicked Folly. Instead the women are portrayed as reckless fanatics.
Dr. McCleland herself is a fantastic character. She is a first female forensic pathologist in London, simply because as a woman she was not allowed into her chosen field of surgery, and she had found a different way to practise her skills and put her education to use. She supports mild suffragettes and simply believe that women should strive to change the world by example, not by loud and violent rallies. Unfortunately her younger, hotheaded sister doesn't agree, and keeps getting into trouble.
While working on a case involving murders of three suffragettes both Dody McCleland and inspector Pike find evidence indicating that there were high ranking officials involved and it all gets messy really quickly. Dr. McCleland also can't stop worrying about her younger sis.
Pike is an interesting character as well. Stoic, acerbic, observant and non-judgemental, he is a mild mannered guy with a tragic past and a grievous injury. Overall, it's an understated, quiet book, but I enjoyed the atmosphere very much and looking forward to reading the rest of this series. Recommended!
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