The peculiar Victorian fascination with all aspects of death causes an undertaker to ponder the good and bad features of safety coffins.
Undertaker Violet Harper does not use safety coffins herself, but her interest in them is sparked by an incident en route to a funeral at suburban Brookwood Cemetery on the London Necropolis Railway. As she waits on the platform for the arrival of the coffin for the funeral she is to supervise, she hears a safety bell suddenly ring on one of the coffins. Opening it discloses a confused but clearly living man who's quickly taken away by a physician who has offices nearby. Violet is shocked, but when the same thing happens a second time, she grows suspicious, and when a young woman becomes hysterical upon the arrival at Brookwood of another safety coffin containing her fiance's body—a body not prepared in any way for burial—Violet undertakes a sleuthing expedition among London undertakers with the help of her newlywed daughter, Susanna, who's visiting from Colorado with her husband, Ben. She meets varying degrees of cooperation and hostility, and Susanna meets with worse: She's attacked as the family walks home in the dark from a circus performance. So Violet goes to Scotland Yard to talk to DCI Hurst (A Virtuous Death, 2014, etc.), who agrees to look into her story even though he's not much interested in it. Every time Violet thinks she's found a solution, her theory turns out to have some flaw. All the while, her determination to find the truth puts her in grave danger.
The pace is glacial, despite, or perhaps because of, the extensive and interesting exploration of Victorian mourning practices.Read full book review >
Undertaker Violet Harper's help with several past mysteries (Stolen Remains, 2014, etc.) has made her a favorite of the queen. Now Victoria has called upon her to attend a tarot reading by her favorite outdoor servant, John Brown, who claims the cards reveal a dangerous plot against someone in Buckingham Palace that only Violet can thwart. Violet's American husband, Samuel, is in Wales promoting Alfred Nobel's wondrous new invention, dynamite, to mine owners when he witnesses a massacre of innocents in a mine dispute. Samuel's absence gives Violet, a guest of the queen, plenty of time to uncover the supposed palace plot. When several highborn ladies are found dead in mysterious circumstances, Violet discovers some tiny marks on their bodies, along with small pieces of odd-smelling cloth in two of their mouths. No believer in spirits, she's certain that Brown's séances are rigged but knows she must continue her investigation. The newly widowed husbands are prime suspects. So is a palace footman who's an adherent of Karl Marx. Meanwhile, the free-spirited Princess Louise and her friends have gotten embroiled with a group fighting to repeal an unfair law that punishes prostitutes but not their clients. Any number of people learning of her involvement might have marked her for death. As she uncovers more information, Violet is attacked and narrowly escapes her own demise.
Filled with informative historical tidbits on some of the less salubrious aspects of Victorian times and plenty of red herrings but sadly in need of some judicious pruning.Read full book review >
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