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by Patrice McDonough
Kensington Publishing, February 2024
336 pages
ISBN: 1496746368

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Set in London in November and December of 1866, MURDER BY LAMPLIGHT tells the tale of a hunt for a serial murderer, but it also weaves in plenty of atmosphere and social issues of the times, adding depth to a thrilling mystery without being pedantic.

Author Patrice McDonough's background in history shows up well in the details she chooses to include, but while the social issues play a strong role, McDonough doesn't let them overwhelm the mystery—they merely increase the interest and give the story a particularly strong, realistic backdrop.

Julia Lewis is a young doctor following in her grandfather's footsteps, although she has had to go to America for her education, since women can't get medical degrees in England in 1866 and are only allowed to practice because of a loophole in the law. She does have a thriving practice, in spite of the challenges, and when her grandfather can't serve as a medical examiner for the police on a case, she steps in and becomes involved in a series of grisly murders being investigated by Detective Inspector Tennant and his team. What begins as an investigation of one murder grows as the killer adds victims, and the clues lead from corrupt heads of society to aging music hall performers, and much in between, exploring workhouses, cholera epidemics, women's rights, and more along the way. Not content to sit on the sidelines, Lewis offers opinions, follows some clues herself, and ultimately finds herself in danger of becoming the killer's next victim.

The mystery itself is gripping, and the clues and red herrings are both illuminating and distracting in this well-plotted story. (The reader might suspect who the killer is before the reveal, because clues are fairly played, but most will be surprised since the red herrings do their job well.) But while this debut novel does have a strong plot driving it, it also has strong—and strong-minded—lead characters, as well as nicely developed minor ones, and the relationship between Lewis and Tennant promises further intrigue. The setting, too, is well drawn, nicely integral to the plot, and so realistic that the stench is sometimes almost palpable. The dangers and horrors of both the times and crimes are not glossed over, which serves to increase involvement and make the characters' reactions believable as well as prove that there are often no easy answers in life. This is definitely a stand-alone novel, but it lays the groundwork for future installments which should be equally intriguing, instructive, and entertaining.

§ Meredith Frazier, a writer with a background in English literature, lives in Dallas, Texas

Reviewed by Meredith Frazier, June 2024

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