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Thursday, 11 July 2013
‘A Case of Doubtful Death’ by Linda Stratmann
Frances Doughty earns her living as a detective in West London. It is an unusual career for a young woman in 1880 but she is successfully solving many small mysteries - lost pets, straying husbands, comparative shopping - and also pursues big issues such as disappearances, blackmail and murder.
In her third case she is employed to find an employee of admirable reliability who has disappeared on the same night as the death of his employer.
The fascinating setting of this strange event is the waiting mortuary where corpses are left to decompose before burial so that there is no possibility of them being buried alive. The whole industry around this is explored from the mortuary to the burial sites where coffins have wires to be pulled by the inmate to ring a bell to show that he or she is alive! In the waiting mortuary there are strings attached to the toes and fingers of the corpses to record any response. The irony of the corpse of the founder of the mortuary being displayed there is obvious. Complications abound as Frances investigates Henry Palmer’s disappearance. The mortuary becomes a more and more sinister place with the doctors showing their dubious attitudes. Frances negotiates the problems of questioning these irascible gentlemen with great aplomb assisted by her faithful companion, Sarah, and her various acquaintances in high and low society. One unusual area of knowledge that Frances has is pharmaceutical since her father’s business in which she had assisted him was a pharmacy. The solving of the mystery comes with great drama and encompasses several of Frances’s cases. The unraveling by Frances of these cases is cleverly plotted.
The setting of Linda Stratman’s books is always excellently shown - she has an intimate knowledge of Victorian life - the polite and rather seamy side of things - through her nonfiction books and she leaves the reader feeling that he or she has actually traversed the streets of Victorian London.
Reviewer: Jennifer S. Palmer
This is Linda’s third book about Frances Doughty, detective. The previous books are The Poisonous Seed and The Daughters of Gentlemen. Her nonfiction books include Chloroform: the Quest for Oblivion; Essex Murders; Whiteley’s Folly: the Life and Death of a Salesman and, very recently, The Marquess of Queensbury: Wilde’s Nemesis.
Linda Stratmann was born in the city of Leicester on 4 April 1948. Linda attended Medway Street Infants and Junior School, in the days of the eleven plus, and from there I went to Wyggeston Girls Grammar School. Her earliest ambition was to be an astronomer, and she read and wrote a great deal of science fiction. She also read biology, zoology and medicine, and seriously considered a medical career. But by her teens, she had developed an absorbing and life-long interest in true crime, probably taking after her mother who loved to read about famous trials. After a period of rebellion Linda I took her A levels and went to Newcastle University in 1971, graduating with first class honours in psychology three years later. She then joined the civil service, and trained to be an Inspector of Taxes. In 1987, unable to resist the pull of London she moved there, married her second husband, Gary in 1993. In 2001 she left the civil service, and started a new career as a freelance writer and sub-editor, and in 2002 was commissioned to write her first published book on the history of Chloroform.
Jennifer Palmer Throughout my reading life crime fiction has been a constant interest; I really enjoyed my 15 years as an expatriate in the Far East, the Netherlands & the USA but occasionally the solace of closing my door to the outside world and sitting reading was highly therapeutic. I now lecture to adults on historical topics including Famous Historical Mysteries.