Set in the early twentieth century this series featuring the fictional character, Dr Dody McCleland, who works under the forensic scientist Bernard Spilsbury. The Insanity of Murder is set in 1913, with war already looming on the horizon and the cause for women to be allowed more say over their own lives, and most importantly to gain the right to vote were reported in the news.
This mystery starts with Dody’s sister Florence setting a bomb at the Necropolis railway station (something that I’d never heard of before) in London. This railway station was built in Waterloo to transport the dead to Kent for burial to ease the overcrowding of London’s cemeteries. Florence is working on behalf of the militant suffragettes as this faction worked hard to bring their cause to the attention of parliament. This method chosen did sound unnecessarily brutal, particularly as unsurprisingly innocent people got caught up in the inevitable blast. Dody is called to help out with checking the dead bodies which due to the nature of the station had to be examined to ensure that their death hadn’t been a result of the station.
Inspector Matthew Pike with whom Dody is having a romantic relationship with, is on the trail to find the perpetrators of the bombing and Dody quickly finds herself anxious to protect her sister from his detection despite the moral dilemma that causes her distress. Dody doesn’t want her sister to be subject to force-feeding (the authority’s response to the suffragette’s hunger strikes) after the nightmares it had caused the first time Florence was imprisoned.
The book gives the reader an excellent depiction of the lives of women in institutions, including asylums at the time which I find fascinating, especially as the author takes a fully rounded view of the time including the contemporary feelings of the time about the suffragettes. Another aspect of this story is the way it illustrates that the class you were born into defined the treatment that you received, in society as well as in institutions, should you be unfortunate enough to end up in one.
As interesting as all this is the story couldn’t exist without the mystery which is cleverly linked to characters impacted by the explosion. There is a missing woman, a suspected suicide and some shady goings on at a ‘rest-home’. With Dody and Florence’s help Pike’s investigation takes a sinister and dangerous turn, although of course the setting of the bomb was kept strictly between the two women.
I have really taken to the character development of both Dody and Pike which has occurred since the first book, both of whom come across as fully rounded people. The secondary characters provide the perfect backdrop to the mystery with a full-range of characters, some with good intentions, others less so. Some of the characters from this period make an appearance as do some of the events, the death of Emily Dickinson who was killed by Kind George V’s horse at the Derby whilst trying to disturb the race, probably by affixing a flag in the distinctive colours of the Women’s Political and Social Union to the horse’s bridle.
Sadly I haven’t yet got around to reading the second and third book in this series but this is something I am going to rectify without (hopefully) too much further delay because the mixture of historical facts and mystery are not only perfectly combined but incredibly well-balanced. There is never the feeling that the research has been dumped onto the page and in fact some aspects, including those about the necropolis railway station prompted me to do a little fact-finding of my own as it had piqued my interest.
I’d like to thank the publishers HarperCollins Australia who allowed me to have a copy of this book in return for my honest opinion. The Insanity of Murder was published on 1 August 2015.
Books in the Dr Dody McCleland Mysteries
The Anatomy of Death
Antidote to Murder
The Scent of Murder
The Insanity of Murder
More about Bernard Spilsbury, Dody’s boss can be read in The Magnificent Spilsbury and the Case of the Brides in the Bath by Jane Robbins