The Victorian heroine of this detection story is Frances Doughty who certainly lives up to her name! She faces a home and work situation of great difficulty even before an unfortunate incident precipitates an inquest. I found the position of the Victorian unmarried female clearly shown with all its problems. Frances is working in her father’s chemist’s shop but she has no qualifications despite considerable experience due to her brother’s prolonged illness and death. Her father has been devastated by the death and is only gradually resuming work. When a customer dies from strychnine poisoning the dispensing of the relevant medicine must be investigated.
Frances fears a miscarriage of justice will lead to blame and decides that she will investigate. The limitations on a respectable middle class female’s activities become very clear but she manages to investigate regardless. Her questioning of servants, interrogation of the police and checking of documents leads her into the throes of a different and distant crime. The story twists and turns effectively until a series of denouements reveals all.
This is the first novel from Linda though she has written a number of nonfiction books on historical true crimes. Her knowledge of the London area in which the Victorian Frances lived is detailed and cleverly given in a way that avoids any tedium. I feel that I am walking down the street in Frances’s company and seeing the people and houses around me with clarity. We are firmly fixed in time and place as this very Victorian crime is dissected.
Jennifer S Palmer