Reviewed by Cesca Martin
This fabulously dark read comes with one of the best covers I’ve seen all year. Isn’t it atmospheric? Set in 1929 the mood was established straight from the off and this wonderfully written book didn’t fail to live up to my expectations.
Dora Strang starts work as a filing clerk in the office of Dr Kemble, the country’s pre-eminent pathologist. Thrilled by both the world of post-mortems and court cases (not forgetting Alfred Kemble) Dora finds herself a long way away from boarding school and the lacrosse pitch. But as she learns a little more about the world in which she works she might be forgiven for leaving all the ghastliness behind her...
The first scene of this book began with pigeons feasting on a pool of chilled vomit on a pavement outside a public house and this image neatly sums up this book: it is all a little bit grim. In a buttoned-up world we get to see the dark underbelly and delve into the sordid lives of murderers and witness the nasty, very real business, of the post mortem. Dora is a lively and amusing protagonist and the world in which she lives is painstakingly delivered. Mrs Frith, the cantankerous old lady Dora boards with, was deliciously drawn. In fact no minor character escaped Louise Levene’s observational wit. The strangely mesmerising character of Alfred Kemble – a confident eccentric who appeared to have as much of a talent for cutting up dead people as he did for seeing off secretaries – really had me turning the pages. The hearty public school girl Dora with her own interest in medicine (and her excellent spelling of ‘diphtheria’) seemed to prove she might last a little longer than her predecessors and I enjoyed the strange dynamic between the two characters. As Kemble’s team, the energetic, charming Vazard and his absolute opposite Hubbard worked on the dead of London. We, through Dora, got to witness all sorts of extraordinary scenes. A fascinating read from an extremely accomplished writer. Fans of historical fiction should pop this one on their bookshelf.
Thank you to Bloomsbury for sending me this book to review.
WEBSITE FOR LOUISE LEVENE