Published by: Constable
Publication Date: 2016
I. S. B. N. : 9771472122292
The object I drew out was dusty and mildewed, and blotched with dark rust-coloured stains. It smelt of time and decay, sour, like old books and parchments. The light from the chapel’s stained glass window blushed red upon it, and upon my hands, as if the thing itself radiated a bloody glow.
Ramshackle and crumbling, trapped in the past and resisting the future, St Saviour’s Infirmary awaits demolition. Within its stinking wards and cramped corridors the doctors bicker and fight. Ambition, jealousy and hatred seethe beneath the veneer of professional courtesy. Always an outsider, and with a secret of her own to hide, apothecary Jem Flockhart observes everything, but says nothing.
And then six tiny coffins are uncovered, inside each a handful of dried flowers and a bundle of mouldering rags. When Jem comes across these strange relics hidden inside the infirmary’s old chapel, her quest to understand their meaning prises open a long-forgotten past – with fatal consequences.
In a trail that leads from the bloody world of the operating theatre and the dissecting table to the notorious squalor of Newgate and the gallows, Jem’s adversary proves to be both powerful and ruthless. As St Saviour’s destruction draws near, the dead are unearthed from their graves whilst the living are forced to make impossible choices. And murder is the price to be paid for the secrets to be kept.
The hospital of St. Saviour’s, once a monastery and then a rural infirmary and parish church has been swallowed up by sprawling, stinking, sickly London. There has always been an Apothecary Flockheart at St. Saviour’s, and in 1848 there’s two, Jem and Jeremiah, fils et pere.
Nothing seems to change at the hospital, the Doctors are still operating in filthy jackets, killing 10% of their patients and resisting new advances. But times are changing, whether they like it or not. Dr Bain, youngest at 45, and most forward thinking tries to introduce new ideas, like cleanliness, and Jem tries to replace Black Drop and the Blue Pill with rhubarb and careful measures of aconite. They are partners in crime, working on a book of poisons in Dr Bain’s home laboratory after hours, and criticising their elders before the medical students at Dr Magorian’s ‘Discussion Room’ and in the operating theatre.
When a young surveyor, Will Quartermain, is sent to empty the graveyard to make way for a new railway line, St. Saviour’s is forced to face the new developments of the Industrial Revolution. It isn’t just old bones they find digging around in the crumbling buildings and graveyard. A twenty-four year old crime comes to light, Rivalry. jealousy and bitter urges spring to life, spreading death in their wake. Jem and Will tackle the crime, and suffer the consequences, while they keep secrets of their own.
This is one of my ‘Student Loan Day Splurges’ from Lindum Books. I’ve been reading it on and off for the last two weeks, but this afternoon I sat down and finished reading the last third. At 378 pages it isn’t the shortest book I’ve read recently. It’s gripping, atmospheric historical crime novel, told by Jem. It drags you in and leaves you wanting to find out what happens next to Jem, Will and Gabriel. I cared enough about them to consider immediately buying the next book but not enough to give into the impulse.
The characterisation, seen through the eyes of Jem, is well-developed and the plot is intricate, with significant clues available, once you know what you’re looking for. The murderer becomes obvious eventually, but motive is saved for the last few chapters.
The second and third Jem Flockheart books, ‘Dark Asylum’ and ‘The Blood’ are on my shopping list. At some point in the future. While not my favourite book this year, it’s a good one and I enjoyed it.