The Outcast Dead features a fictional baby-farmer, made more gruesome by the addition of a hook to replace her missing hand. Mother Hook as she was known after her death was tried, found guilty and executed for killing children in her care so the discovery of a body, which could be this infamous woman, real name Jemima Green during a dig at Norwich Castle prompts the TV series Women Who Kill to turn up to film ‘the discovery.’ Phil, Ruth’s boss at the University is keen to take part as the archaeology team work on identification of the remains.
Meanwhile DCI Nelson is plunged into the worst kind of investigation, an investigation into a mother whose third child has just died. Nelson is cautious of her innocence but equally anxious not to upset the bereaved mother when he is plunged into the disappearance of a young child and he race against time to find her before it is too late.
I have only read the first in this series (The Crossing Places) featuring Ruth Galloway, something I must rectify as I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed reading about Ellie Griffith’s unglamorous forensic archaeologist, so fortunately I got the references to the death of Scarlet Henderson which still haunts Nelson but this was easy to read as a stand-alone in its own right. Ruth is a real woman who clearly adores her daughter but also loves her job and is passionate about recording all that she can discover of the bones that she discovers. She is pragmatic about her Phil’s vanity and there are some delightfully catty asides aimed at him. She is delighted to explain her work to a wider audience whilst not enjoying being the focus of attention during filming.
Although the writing style (in the present tense) does take some getting used to I soon managed to immerse myself in this book, the wonderful imagery, tense relationships and a genuinely gripping plot which is fast paced. The reason why these books work for me is that there are a myriad of relationships that underpin the crimes being investigated.
Quercus were kind enough to allow me an ARC in return for this review which has paid off for them as I have already purchased Dying Fall to listen to on audio! The Outcast Dead was published on 6 February 2014.
Girls who got pregnant in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century had few options if marriage wasn’t an option, particularly if they weren’t living in rural areas where the children could be passed to members of the immediate or extended family. One of the more favourable options was to give their child to one of the woman who were known disparagingly as baby-farmers. These women were paid to take care of the child. If the payment was made as a lump sum the less scrupulous in the profession weren’t averse to hastening an infant’s death, often using opiate based medicines which quietened the child at the same time, thereby making more room and another lump sum.
Read my reviews of some other books that feature baby-farmer’s here:
The Ghost of Lily Painter by Caitlin Davies a fictional account that features Amelia Sach who plied her trade in Finchley
The Woman Who Murdered Babies for Money by Alison Rattle is a non-fiction account of the baby-farmer Amelia Dyer
Caversham Lock by Michael Stewert Conway is a fictional account featuring Amelia Dyer
The Outcast Dead – Amazon UK