Beloved Poison by E S Thomson

51UYNYy94sL._SX306_BO1,204,203,200_St Saviour’s Infirmary is due to be demolished but in the meantime, but it’s business as usual in the operating theatres and on the wards. The corridors hide many secrets, none more damning than those of the young apothecary Jem Flockhart. His main secret – that in fact she is a woman, who has spent her entire life disguised as a man to be able to do the work that she has been trained to do. But worse things are about to be discovered with far-reaching consequences.

As the old chapel begins to be demolished, Jem discovers something bizarre – six tiny coffins containing rags and dried flowers. Clearly some sort of memorial to something but not something that should have such ramifications. Soon, a leading doctor at the hospital lies dead and he’s not the last suspicious death. Only Jem seems to suspect murder, but as the bodies mount up, it is clear that the killer knows Jem is on their trail – and they are determined to do something about it…

Beloved Poison is the first novel by E S Thomson, a Scottish academic with a PhD in the history of medicine, which shows on nearly every page here. The 1850s is a time of discovery and experimentation in the field of surgery and treatment but the tests required are very much of the kill-or-cure type. Corpses are readily dissected, doctors argue as to whether their clothes during surgery should be clean or blood-soaked, and, when there aren’t any willing patients to experiment on, the medical profession are reduced to experimenting on themselves. And this world is brought to vivid live – I’ve praised Paul Doherty in particular for bringing the more colourful aspects of the past to life in his mysteries. Well, E S Thompson has exactly the same skill – the world of St Saviour’s is both compelling and believable.

The book is told from Jem’s point of view as she investigates the coffins – and then the murders – while struggling with life while hiding in plain sight. The tale is nicely complex and is full of distinct characters, a number of which aren’t going to have a happy ending. One incident towards the end is particularly shocking – when a detective is put on a clock to sort things out, you can usually expect what’s going to happen. But things are not exactly black and white here…

So, if you’re looking for an evocative mystery with well-constructed central characters with a colourful historical background, you could do a lot worse than take a look at this one. It’s already been nominated for two “First Book” awards, was released yesterday (March 3rd) from Constable books and is Highly Recommended. Many thanks for the review copy.

Beloved Poison Blog Tour

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