When I read this Fair Dinkum Crime review of Felicity Young’s A Dissection of Murder by bernadetteinoz, I added it to my already-excessively-long TBR* list. I’m a sucker for historical crime novels, especially when the lead character is female, and this one had the added relish of the protagonist breaking into a new, ‘suspect’ profession as an autopsy surgeon.
I fell into this book with relish. From the first scenes of the suffragette rally gone bad to the denouement, I was hooked.
The narrative opens with the arrival home of newly qualified Dr Dody McCleland, who has returned from Edinburgh where she completed her studies.
The immediate summons to the first job in her new capacity throws the first elements of latent and overt conflict into the mix: a relationship that is long overdue for pruning, the suspicion and open hostility towards her as a woman in what has been a profession for men only, torn loyalties when confronted with her first autopsy cases…and that’s just the first few pages!
I enjoyed the well-developed characters and their contradictory humanity. I especially liked the central relationship between Dody and her sister Florence (who is equal parts frustrating and admirable). Sibling relations can be written with presumptively saccharine flavours, and Young avoids this while still conveying the sisters’ complex and fond connections.
Another key protagonist, Inspector Matthew Pike, is presented as the balancing voice in a very bigoted police force. Pike is a man with strong principles, some of which have left him in unfortunate situations, more often than not. In the story, he finds himself compromising these principles as he continues his investigations into the violence at the rally. The nuances of his predicament are compelling, with unexpected consequences.
Young’s deft touch with historical detail and social mores was enticing. She forewent slabs of exposition for tightly drawn scenes with telling conversations (loved those), non-intrusive urban context, and political conflict as demonstrated through personal relations and prejudices. I liked the fact that no character was without prejudice. Class issues and the privileges of wealth/position are consistently woven through the narrative, and Dody’s enviable position of being financially secure is made clear. So, her career, which is made up of a large portion of unpaid services, occupies an odd space. This context gives her the freedom to work for satisfaction and interest rather than the pressure of putting food on the table; it also brings home the point that paying for a woman’s professional services and valuing her expertise is still a novel idea.
I realised how deeply Young’s novel had embedded itself in my psyche when I kept wishing I had more of the book to read. I keep having to remind myself that I had finished it (over three days); there’ll be no more Dody till the next novel is released.
This phantom-novel feeling – that I had something I could get back to and keep on reading – also happened to me when I finished the five books in George R. R. Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series, but that was possibly more to do with the total immersion in Westeros for about three weeks or so. Reading till 2am most nights starts to wreak havoc with day-time living.
Perhaps it is just as well that the next Dody novel isn’t out for a while, and I have no massive back-list to work through. Just as well (though I am entertaining the idea of working my way through her other novels, the police procedurals…)
Another thing I’ve learned? Trust in Fair Dinkum Crime‘s recommendations!
This is my second book review for the AWW 2012 Challenge. My first, of Sulari Gentill’s A Few Right Thinking Men, is HERE.
* TBR: to-be-read