The death of Sir Edward Crick has unleashed a torrent of gossip through the seedy taverns and elegant ballrooms of Oxfordshire. Few mourn the dissolute young man – except his sister, the beautiful Lady Lydia Farrell. When her husband comes under suspicion of murder, she seeks expert help from Dr. Thomas Silkstone, a young anatomist from Philadelphia.
Thomas arrived in England to study under its foremost surgeon, where his unconventional methods only add to his outsider status. Against his better judgment he agrees to examine Sir Edward’s corpse. But it is not only the dead, but also the living, to whom he must apply the keen blade of his intellect. And the deeper the doctor’s investigations go, the greater the risk that he will be consigned to the ranks of the corpses he studies…
Review: This is a first book from Tessa Harris and she has done a brilliant job! It is also the first in a mystery series featuring Dr. Thomas Silkstone. For those of you who like period mysteries featuring forward thinking men, this is the book you need to read. I liken it to the Sarah Woolson Mysteries by Shirley Tallman or the Lady Julia Grey series by Deanna Raybourn, both of which feature progressive women sleuths in historical references.
Taking place in 1780 England, our hero, Dr. Thomas Silkstone, is a doctor practicing dissection and autopsy to help him understand diseases and the causes of death. When Lady Lydia Farrell approaches him to perform an autopsy on her brother, he immediately falls in awe of her. While this book is strictly a mystery there is an aura of romance about it that begins so subtly it is almost non-existent.
One thing I loved about Silkstone is his tendency to think in terms of dissection. For example, when first riding into Oxford, his thought was that it looked “…like a gleaming necklace of cream-colored knuckle bones threaded on a tendon of river…” Contradictorily, he also speaks of the human body and its organs in terms of landscapes: “From the gray, spongy marsh of the inner cerebrum, from the undulating hills of the cerebellum to the boggy lowlands of the hypothalamus, the trails and routes of the brain were chartered territories inasmuch as explorer surgeons had traversed their silent landscapes many times.”
Harris’ writing is intelligent and eloquent. She puts together words that do more than bring together a story; they evoke the true speech and culture of 1780. I learned several new words and phrases during my reading and, after using an on-line dictionary for the first few chapters, discovered a glossary in the back of the book to help with the lingo. Cock a snook may not mean quite what you’re thinking while phapian translates to prostitute.
The mystery is well-plotted and weaves the story with CSI-like investigations, LA Law-like courtroom dramatics, and a Sherlock Holmes-like integrity in digging for the truth, no matter how the truth wills out. I am highly anticipating the second book in this series and can’t wait to see where it leads Silkstone.