Although bestselling and multi-award-winning author Lene Kaaberbol is quite a prolific author, you may know her best as the co-author of the highly acclaimed novel The Boy in the Suitcase. When I saw that she had written Book #1 in a new historical mystery series, Doctor Death, I knew I was going to be in for a treat and I was not disappointed in that prediction. If you like a strong, independent female sleuth and a gripping thriller then you will definitely want to learn more about Doctor Death.
In 1894 France, girls do not become pathologists or medical examiners. No one would even think of allowing them to do such a thing. Instead they make good, solid marriages with men they can at least tolerate if not love outright. That is the path Madeleine Kano’s widowed father, Dr. Albert Kano, hopes for her too, despite her wishes. The only problem is that his daughter inherited his intelligent, curious mind, the mind of a scientist.
He doesn’t realize fully yet that both his tolerance of her curiosity and his willingness to have her assist him in his work, and to learn from him, have led her to solidify her dream – the dream of following in his footsteps as the pathologist and medical examiner known as Doctor Death. She doesn’t just fancy this dream; she needs it to feel whole. She is tired of being dismissed as a lesser human just because she’s female. Although society’s deck seems stacked against her, she’s determined to find some way to prove her worth and become accepted in his profession.
It’s shocking when Cecile, a girl about Madeleine’s age from a respectable family, is found dead in the street outside her home with no visible signs to explain how she died, other than some unsettling bite marks. Madeleine’s father feels horribly frustrated when her parents refuse to allow him to perform a new technique, an autopsy, on her body. There is only one potential clue that can be found on her body without cutting her open, tiny parasitic mites inside her nostril that normally are only found in dogs. Dogs seem to live quite easily with these kinds of mites but can humans? How did she contract them and could they have killed her?
“’It is unusual,’ said the Commissioner to my father. ‘It is difficult to believe that it is a natural death, considering the circumstances, but there are no external signs of violence.’”
“’Could the cold have killed her?’ asked the Commissioner.
‘It’s possible. But right outside her own door?’
‘No, that is not logical. Unless she died somewhere else and was later placed where her brother found her?’
‘I think she died where she was found,’ said my father. ‘The clinical signs suggest as much.’
They both stole a glance at the priest and refrained from discussing lividity while he was listening.”
‘What?’ With a start, the priest focused on them. ‘Consumption? No, certainly not. When she left her school a few weeks ago, she was as sound and healthy as one could possibly expect of a young lady of seventeen.’
‘And why did she leave school?’ asked the Commissioner.
‘I must confess that we thought it was because of an unfortunate attachment she had made to a young man who disappeared at the same time. But now…Perhaps we have done her an injustice.’”
That might have been the end of the mystery of how Cecile died except that something even odder happens not long afterward. A local priest who sat vigil with Cecile’s body before her funeral is found murdered, and inside his nostrils is the same kind of mite. When his autopsy is performed, his lungs show that the mites have had a devastating effect. The irony is that he would have quickly died even if he had not been so brutally murdered. Why was he murdered? How are these two deaths connected? Could the mites be spread through close contact? How many people may have already been infected? Does this mean there could be a new deadly plague descending on the area?
Because Cecile lived and attended school at a local convent, that seems to be the logical place to try to find some answers. The only problem is that the good doctor is not only injured while working on the case but he is not welcome within the cloistered walls beyond public rooms. That means Madeleine is their only hope of finding the clues needed to learn what happened to Cecile. And finding those clues seems their only hope of forestalling these deadly mites from spreading throughout the local population. The body count is already climbing, and a small boy has disappeared who had contact with the priest. Could he be infected and have infected others?
Madeleine is a strong, whip-smart young woman who’s determined to prove herself. She’s one of those characters who just grab me and won’t let go. The term forensics didn’t even exist in 1890’s France but that is part of what she’s doing, along with other intense detective work that puts her in great danger. There is also unexpected potential romance along the way. Could that derail her from her dream or could it be the answer to allowing her to live her dream? I’ll never tell. I won’t tell you about the other characters, inside and outside of the convent, except to say that they are all deeply explored. I will, however, give away the small spoiler that passion plays a large role in this thriller, as do wolves.
Doctor Death has a dark gothic feel to it, which seems very appropriate for the time period – so dark in fact that I kept expecting monsters to jump out of the bushes. I had read that Lene Kaaberbol was an expert in world building and character development, and I’d like to second that opinion. This is one of those novels I pick up thinking, oh, I’ll just read it a bit at a time – wrong! It hooked me immediately as it took off at breathtaking speed around a series of hairpin turns and the pace never let up. And underneath all the puzzling layers lies insight into the struggles everyone faces at some point in their lives.
Bottom Line: I pulled an all-nighter because I couldn’t put it down, knowing full well that I was going to suffer for it the next day. There was just no spot where I could stop reading it…and it was worth every sleepless minute! So are you in the mood for a gothic thriller or a forensic mystery? If so, I definitely recommend Doctor Death!
Can’t wait to read it?
Doctor Death was published on February 17th, 2015, so it’s available now from your favorite online bookseller below (or in the right column for iBooks).
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