The Alchemist Daughter is a very unique historical mystery set late in Henry the VIII's reign. This story focuses on the common person in London's underbelly as opposed to the aristocrats we see featured so often in historical fiction.
Bianca is the daughter of an Alchemist, a man once accused of trying to commit murder, but this doesn't deter Bianca from mixing salves and healing elixirs for those in need, just don't label her as an alchemist.
As an unmarried woman, Bianca has quietly spurned society's expectations by running her own enterprises, as opposed to accepting marriage or entering a nunnery, the only real secure options for women in those days. This does raise a few eyebrows here and there, and a certain constable we meet in this story seems to take an instant dislike to her.
However, this doesn't mean Bianca shuns romance entirely.
When Bianca's friend Jolyn, visits her complaining of a stomach ailment, Bianca gives her something for the malady only to find it go horribly awry when the girl dies immediately afterward.
Now, Bianca is being looked at as a probable suspect in the girl's death, prompting Bianca and her good friend, John, to discover what caused her friend's death and who might have wanted her dead. They must race against the clock as the ambitious Constable Patch closes in on Bianca positive she is a murderer, making it clear her arrest is eminent.
We like to think of forensic science as a modern marvel but as this story demonstrates, the use of forensics to aid in the discovery of the truth is hardly a new concept. While it is primitive next to our sophisticated technology, Bianca's methods of detection proves quite effective.
However, the cause of death is only part of the story as it becomes clear several people had a reason to want Jolyn dead. This adds intrigue as Bianca and her friends uncovers some interesting information about the house Jolyn was living in and a certain man she had been keeping company with. A real who-dun-it develops, along with several neat twist thrown in along the way, that kept me engaged in the story.
I really do enjoy historical mysteries but finding them set in the 1500's against the Tudor backdrop is not all that common, and when the king isn't mentioned nor his politics, it is an even rarer find. I loved that about this book. The characters are very well drawn, some adding humor, some adding a romantic element, but all loyal and committed to helping Bianca and to finding the truth. Constable Patch was like many in his occupation, simply going by what evidence was the easiest to make a case with and going no further with his investigations. Still, he does grudgingly back off when he could have continued to make things difficult. Our bad guy is truly diabolical, showing that if someone wants to commit mass murder they will find a way in which to do so and this thought was quite chilling.
I breezed through this book very quickly, reading it in a matter of hours. At times the language did slow me down as the author added as much authenticity to the slang and pronunciations as possible without losing the reader in the process. I thought this was a nice touch and added more atmosphere and realism. Still, this is a very easy read, very different from the usual procedural type mystery making it especially fun to read. I am thankful this novel is a part of a series featuring Bianca because this book has made me a fan.
“A realistic evocation of 16th century London’s underside. The various strands of the plot are so skillfully plaited together.” —Fiona Buckley
In the year 1543 of King Henry VIII’s turbulent reign, the daughter of a notorious alchemist finds herself suspected of cold-blooded murder…
Bianca Goddard employs her knowledge of herbs and medicinal plants to concoct remedies for the disease-riddled poor in London’s squalid Southwark slum. But when her friend Jolyn comes to her complaining of severe stomach pains, Bianca’s prescription seems to kill her on the spot. Recovering from her shock, Bianca suspects Jolyn may have been poisoned before coming to her—but the local constable is not so easily convinced.
To clear her name and keep her neck free of the gallows, Bianca must apply her knowledge of the healing arts to deduce exactly how her friend was murdered and by whom—before she herself falls victim to a similar fate…
“Unique characters, a twisty plot and a bold, bright heroine add up to a great debut for Mary Lawrence’s The Alchemist’s Daughter. Mystery and Tudor fans alike will raise a glass to this new series.”
—Karen Harper, author of The Poyson Garden