The Anatomy of Death
by Felicity Young
Cover Artist: Alan Ayers
Review by Gayle Surrette
Berkley Trade Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780425247297
Date: 01 May 2012 List Price $15.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Dr. Dorothy "Dody" McCleland has been in Scotland getting the necessary training to be a forensic surgeon. As a woman, she's not allowed to perform surgery on living patients. She's just returned home and nearly immediately get called to do the postmortems on three women killed when they marched on the House of Commons.
When Dody arrives, she meets Detective Chief Inspector Matthew Pike and Superintendent Shepherd. The first two bodies were easily dealt with, but when she lifted the shroud off the third body, she had to refuse to do the autopsy because she knew the woman. Lady Catherine Cartwright was a close friend of her sister. So, the autopsy is assigned to someone else. The problem is the alternate surgeon is incompetent.
The case is very sensitive because of the social standing of Lady Cartwright. The police are saying that the women marching on the House of Commons went hysterical and attacked the police who were only trying to defend themselves from the crazy women.
Florence McCleland, Dody's sister, has been working with the Pankhursts and has survived forced feedings when she was imprisoned. Dody, on the other hand, believes that change will come, but militant methods are not the way to force change. She's been fighting quietly as a doctor working at a women's hospital seeing that they get medical care and pushing the envelope whenever she can -- hence the training in forensic pathology.
That first call to do postmortems introduced her to Pike and together they work to find out what really happened on the square before the House of Commons. He is a father of a daughter, and a man committed to justice. While he may not agree with the women's movement, he knows he can't avoid it.
Felicity Young has written a great mystery revolving around the women's movement in England. The characters are solid and very much a part of their time period. However, all of society was in flux with the rise of the middle class, and women, many of them, wanted the right to vote and to be heard by those who governed them.
The Anatomy of Death doesn't just entertain; it gives readers a window into the lives of those who struggled for the rights that we now take for granted, and the schism among the women's groups. In the context, the mystery seems like it might be cut and dried, but there are so many levels and twists that the ending will surprise even the most astute reader.