The year is 1880. In West London, a dedicated doctor has set up a waiting mortuary on the borders of Kensal Green Cemetery, where corpses are left to decompose before burial to reassure clients that no one can be buried alive. When he collapses and dies on the same night that one of his most reliable employees disappears, Frances Doughty, a young sleuth with a reputation for solving knotty cases, is engaged to find the missing man, but nothing is as it seems. In this, her third case, Frances Doughty must rely on her wit, courage and determination - as well as some loyal friends - to solve the case. Suspicions of blackmail, fraud and murder lead to a gruesome exhumation in the catacombs, with shocking results.
This is the third book in the Frances Doughty’s series and her fame as a female private detective who can investigate discreetly is growing, so her small list of ‘helpers’, her assistant Sarah, Tom, a young urchin and two kind-hearted rogues with a free pass to the Bayswater criminal fraternity, are kept pretty busy.
Frances is engaged to find Henry Palmer, a young Mortuary assistant, by his distraught sister. Henry went missing on the night his employer died, thus making him a candidate for his own mortuary. The late Dr Mackenzie founded a ‘Life House’ which caters for wealthy clients who fear being buried alive, tended by staff to ensure they are really dead.
Once Frances establishes Henry’s veracity and good character, she turns to his employers, a group of medical men and their acolytes, all of whom give her the run-around by open lies or standing on their impeccable reputations. Unimpressed, Frances has her own opinions as to what happened and she keeps digging and confronting them until the truth emerges.
Being a fan of forensic science mysteries, I found this story fascinating, especially concerning the Victorian beliefs as to what constitutes death. Ms Stratmann’s dialogue is delightful in that she maintains a Victorian sensibility and subtlety in her phrasing, even when describing France’s thoughts - thoughts she often has to keep to herself or reveal to a misogynistic society that in most cases she is more intelligent than they are.
There is something of a 19th Century Kathy Reichs about this novel, with Frances having bodies dug up and discussing causes of death, mostly against the better judgement of male medics who expect her to have a fit of the vapours.
The stories stand alone, but if read in order the reader can follow Frances as she gains confidence in herself and her work and finds ways to circumvent the prejudices of men who feel she must have weak morals to want to work as a detective.
Anita Davison is a Historical Fiction Author whose latest release, ‘Royalist Rebel’ a biographical novel set in 17th Century England, released by Claymore Press under the name Anita Seymour