As you can probably tell from my review of Felicity Young’s first novel in the Dody McCleland series, Dissection of Murder, I’m a fan.
I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this second novel, and it didn’t disappoint.
Well, except that it ended.
Within a few pages, I was back in Young’s evocation of noisome, overheated, early twentieth-century London. As well as the crush and noise, the second-class citizen status of women was immediately clear in Dody’s interactions with hospital staff.
The notoriety of her profession is well layered into the narrative, as is her difficult and often derided role as the first woman in it. Dody is always met with distinct reactions to her chosen lifestyle.
The intrigue starts early with Dody’s beau, police-officer Matthew Pike, doing a runner from the hospital where he was slated for surgery.
We’re quickly into the thick of undercover investigations, illicit drugs, and criminal medical activities. Dody’s sister, Florence, is once again stirring things up, sometimes without realising it. Dody herself is causing more unease than usual by becoming a zealot about sex education and birth control, and who can blame her after the extreme situations that she has to deal with in the impoverished alleyways of Whitechapel.
As with the first in this series, I read the novel so quickly that I didn’t linger to consider Young’s writing style. The drive to find out what happens next was too strong. I don’t know whether this is a bad thing for authors to hear – they have been successful in writing a page-turner, but readers consume it with bare respect for the time and care that must have been put into the text. There were only a couple of passages where I felt that the reader was being educated about history, but most of the fabulous detail is woven beautifully into the story.
The lack of choice and control for women in their lives is in stark evidence throughout the narrative, and certainly shook my complacent 21st century perspectives. Being at the mercy of biology, and the right side of an era’s mores, lead to personal crises with life-long consequences.
Two of the key things I like about this book (and the series so far):
1. Dody and Pike’s relationship and how it is conducted with respect, and realistic presumptions and motivations. Young doesn’t hand them a ‘happily ever after’, but it’s something I found much more satisfying.
2. The privileged life that Dody leads, one that allows her to work at the morgue and gratis at the women’s clinic, is never just background. With her life contrasting sharply with those she tends to, Dody does not take on a saviour’s role. She is one woman, working and pushing against a system that’s weighted heavily against her participation and influence. Part of the galling discourse for her is the attitude of many who wonder why she bothers; why not just kick back and enjoy living an upper-class life? The fact that she’s choosing struggle (as does Florence with her involvement with the suffragettes) makes people suspicious of her motives.
I’m eagerly awaiting the third in the Dody series, The Scent of Murder, which Young’s website tells me is due for release in 2014. I can’t help wishing that I’d discovered this series about ten books down the track, and I could luxuriate in a significant back-list…