Antidote to Murder
by Felicity Young
Review by Mel Jacob
Berkley Trade Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780425253540
Date: 07 May 2013 List Price $16.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Fighting for recognition as a female autopsy surgeon in 1911 London is not easy. Dr. Dody McCleland encounters scorn, prejudice, and lack of acceptance from both society and fellow practioners. Her troubles are made worse after a pregnant scullery maid is found dead from a botched abortion. Indicted for the death, Dody fights to clear her name and continue her profession.
This mystery is Young's second novel featuring Dody and Chief Inspector Pike, Dody's love interest. The first was The Anatomy of Death. Young provides two overlapping stories. Dody's struggle to clear her name and find the abortionist while Pike focuses on stopping German spies and finding the murderer of Rear Admiral Millbank.
Dody works with the famous Dr. Spilsbury, the Home Office pathologist. She is an assistant forensic surgeon, but only permitted to record Dr. Spilsbury's observations and findings. Her fellow surgeon, Henry Everard, while her junior, is eventually to receive the promotion as a recognized pathologist. He is sarcastic and undermines Dody at every turn, including stealing her research idea.
Her family has a somewhat checkered history. Her parents are Fabians and actively support striking workers. Her sister Florence is a suffragette who organizes and participates in demonstrations. Currently, she is part of a group picketing Mata Hari's stage show.
Pike has been seconded to the Special Branch to work on capturing German spies after the plans for the new Naval Dreadnaught. He plays the piano for Mata Hari during her Dance of the Seven Veils and then conducts the orchestra when the conductor becomes unavailable courtesy of the Special Branch. He encounters a strange man, Dr. Van Noort, a British citizen of Dutch descent, who is a fan of Mata Hari.
In addition to her work as a forensic surgeon, Dody also treats poor women at a Women's Clinic. There, she meets Esther Craddock, a pregnant scullery maid who has been taking lead tablets. Dody gives a prescriptions to counteract the lead and bromide as a sedative. She notices some tablets wrapped in cloth that Esther has. Esther wants an abortion, but it is illegal and against Dody's principles.
Later, during the autopsy of a young boy who died of lead poisoning, she notices a white residue in the stomach contents and calls attention to it. The autopsy casts suspicion on the parents. The police find lead tables, identical to the ones Esther had, in a matchbox in the home. Dody learns from the mother that pubs in the Whitechapel area sell the distinctive tablets.
The novel provides plenty of history and colorful details of the period, including the use of morphine and other drugs by the upper crust at afternoon teas. Young uses real people such as Dr. Spilsbury and Mata Hari and real events. Sufficient red herrings keep the reader guessing and the pages turning.