Crime fiction, a genre I read a lot of, has occasionally the tendency to feel a little ‘samey’. And I don’t just mean the plots. At some point, the consensus has become that books need to be dialogue heavy. Descriptive prose is out. And yet, it is this style of writing outside of crime fiction that I love. Colm Toibin, for example, writes beautiful dialogue sparsely. So I was delighted when I picked up the new latest book by Linda Stratmann to see that it contained paragraphs of description that related to both the setting and the plot.
In West London, a doctor has set up a hospital for the dead in response to the concerns of Victorian society that they might accidentally be buried alive. In the hospital, bodies are kept until putrefaction has set in thereby reassuring relatives that the dead are truly gone. When Doctor Mackenzie dies, his young assistant mysteriously disappears and Frances Doughty, a young detective with a reputation for perseverance, joins the hunt for the missing Henry Palmer.
A Case of Doubtful Death contains a huge amount period detail. The author has written a number of non-fiction books on past murders around the UK and clearly knows the period well. There is also a significant amount of forensic detail provided which I found fascinating in a historical setting. Victorian London, of course, is a gift of a setting for a writer, but we do get a different view of the period in this book. The description of the mortuary in Kensal Green, for example, is satisfyingly morbid and gives readers a flavour of things to come.
The character of Frances Doughty has a feel of some of the women we see in the stories of Sherlock Holmes: principled and redoubtable, she is the main driving force of the book. She is also a foretaste of the later suffragettes that play an important role in London’s history as she clearly upsets the men she meets with her no-nonsense questioning.
I met the author by chance at a crime fiction event and it goes to show how meeting fellow enthusiasts can lead to discovery of new books to read. A Case of Doubtful Death is the third book in the Frances Doughty series and I now hope to start at the beginning and carry on my enjoyable journey into London’s unsavoury past.
Thanks to the publisher, The Mystery Press, for sending me a copy of the book.