Felicity Young’s The Anatomy of Death is a fantastically well-written historical mystery with a unique protagonist and rich period details. The story is set in London during the early 20th century, a time of great change and political drama. It features the fascinating character Dr. Dorothy (Dody) McCleland as a female pioneer, England’s first woman autopsy surgeon.
After a violent women’s rights rally in which some of the protestors are killed, Dr. McCleland is called in to examine the bodies and determine whether police brutality may have caused their deaths. When she recognizes one of the victims as Lady Catherine Cartwright, a close friend of her militantly suffragist sister, she refuses to perform the autopsy. However, the report she see later only deepens the mystery of how Lady Catherine died. Tasked with formally investigating the incident is Scotland Yard Detective Chief Inspector Matthew Pike. Pike is an honorable man, though he carries physical and emotional scars that color his life and approach to his work. Unlike many of the men she encounters in her profession, Pike seems to treat Dody with respect, and they soon become allies in the search for the truth about Lady Catherine’s death.
The best historical mysteries are those that manage to transport the reader to the past, envelop them in the complexity of a good mystery and make them feel as if they know the protagonists so well that they can peek over their shoulders while collecting clues along the way. Felicity Young achieves this kind of excellence in The Anatomy of Death. After reading the story, I felt that I had spent time in Edwardian England and witnessed the struggles of women suffragists firsthand. The historical details in the story are plentiful, but they do not overwhelm the mystery. And while the solution of the mystery at the end of the story is satisfying, it is the relationship that has developed between Dr. Dody McCleland and Chief Inspector Pike that is the true treasure of this historical mystery. Each character is complex and interesting individually, yet, together they make a wonderful crime solving pair.
I was thrilled to read on Felicity Young’s website that The Anatomy of Death is the first of the Dr. Dorothy McCleland mysteries that she has written. I cannot wait for more installments. I already miss Dody and Inspector Pike.
THE ANATOMY OF DEATH is set in London at the turn of the twentieth century during the tenuous fight for women’s right to vote.
Dody McCleland is England’s first female autopsy surgeon. When a women’s rights rally turns violent, Dody must solve the murder of an innocent suffragette while proving herself professionally to her male counterparts. Discovering the victim is a friend of her sister, Dody is even more determined to uncover the cause of this suspicious death. Chief Detective Inspector Pike joins the investigation but finds it difficult to trust anyone—including Dody. Amidst the turbulent political climate of London, Dody is determined to find the woman’s killer while working to gain Pike’s approval. She must be careful which gender she chooses to side with, as accusations quickly follow.