Finished: May 17, 2008
First Published: Jan. 2008
Genre: historical fiction, forensic mystery
Reason for Reading: Received a review copy from Random House Canada.
For days, clouds had hung over the frigid city, promising snow; an ephemeral
late winter veneer of white, but the temperature had suddenly risen and a cold,
stinging drizzle had arrived instead.
Comments: It is 1898, Philadelphia and Dr. Ephraim Carroll is studying with the renowned Dr. William Osler. Autopsies have been legal for only five years and still many people find them barbaric. It is in this setting that one day the corpse of a young lady found in the streets turns up on Dr. Osler's table for autopsy. Dr. Carroll notices that two of the other doctor's seem shocked by her appearance and Dr. Osler quickly replaces the sheet and ends the class early. Later, looking into the suspicious death of one of his colleagues leads him down a dark trail to the waterfront, seedy 'Paris Revue' clubs and back alley operations. Many real-life personalities populate the story and fact mixes with fiction in this intriguing story of late 19th century medicine.
While the mystery portion of the story was rather slow going and predictable to this reader, I found the historical aspect absolutely riveting. The characters were rather cliched but the story was entertaining and kept me reading. The piece de resistance of this book is the historical setting and the detailed research of the author. The surgical processes, the medical knowledge and research of the time makes for fascinating reading. This book will appeal more to historical fiction fans than those looking for an intense mystery.