Friday, May 22, 2015

Bodies, bodies everywhere

Forensic science developments in recent years have helped to solve many crimes that might not even have been recognized as murder in past times.  The events in The Anatomist's Apprentice take place in the year 1780, when the study of anatomy, not to mention forensics, was in its infancy.

At the country estate of Boughton Hall, a terrible scene takes place.  The young lord of the manner, Edward Crick, experiences a terrifying episode of convulsions and excruciating pain before dying in front of his horrified sister Lydia.  Lydia is married to the Irishman Michael Ferrell, who inherits the estate upon the death of his brother-in-law.  Since Edward was so young and there is a motive for someone to want him dead, tongues in the village begin to wag.  In an effort to silence the gossip, Michael calls in two local doctors to examine the corpse.  The doctors, not surprisingly, don't waste too much time on pondering the cause of death, and decide it was from natural causes.

Lydia's cousin, Francis Crick, is a medical student who is studying under the American Dr. Thomas Silkstone.  He mentions the pioneering work in anatomy and chemical analysis that Dr. Silkstone is doing, which causes Lydia to ask the doctor to examine the corpse of her brother.  She is very disturbed by the rumors which call her husband a murderer. Even though Michael Ferrell has turned into a disagreeable spouse, she feels very loyal to him and doesn't want the family name to be ruined.

Dr. Silkstone agrees to take on the case, both to find out if murder was done, and to please the beautiful Lydia.  Things begin to look even worse for Michael when it becomes known that he set up a still to brew up his own rat poison (doesn't everyone?).  Dr. Silkstone takes samples from the by now decomposing body of Lord Crick, but is unable to find any rat poison.  This doesn't stop the rumors, nor does it protect Ferrell from becoming a suspect.

No one on the estate, apart from Lydia, seems particularly upset at the young Lord's death.  In fact, more than one person had a motive for wanting him dead, but none as much as Ferrell.  Naturally, someone doesn't want Dr. Silkstone to get close to the truth, so he is brutally attacked.  Will he be able to discover the truth before there are more deaths?

Well, unfortunately not.  As the bodies pile up, the red herrings also fly thick and fast.  Just when you think the murder has been revealed, someone else dies and suspicion falls on a different person.  That happening once might be OK, but it happens several times and starts to get really annoying before the book finally ends and we apparently have tied up all the loose ends, and assigned blame for all the deaths to the correct people.

While I can appreciate that the author wanted the story to have twists and turns, there were just too many of them to make the story enjoyable.  I would have preferred a more straightforward resolution to the mystery.  This sleepy village suddenly being overrun with dead bodies and plotting murderers was just too far-fetched to be believable.

Final verdict for The Anatomist's Apprentice: Two Gherkins, for being a mystery with too many killers coming out of the woodwork

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