The coming demolition of St. Saviour’s Infirmary in Victorian London marks a decisive chapter for a young woman who’s lived her entire life there as a man.
Jem Flockhart has been raised by her apothecary father to follow in his footsteps in the crumbling ruins of the buildings due to be torn down to make way for a railway. It’s been hard to hide her sex from others, and she’s distressed when William Quartermain, the junior architect for the project, has to share her room. Hundreds of bodies have been discovered on the grounds, and it’s Quartermain’s job to remove them all. While she’s showing Quartermain around, they find hidden in the chapel six tiny coffins, each with a doll inside wrapped in bloody cloth, along with bits and pieces of flowers and seeds. Curious about who made them and for what reason, Jem, who’s slowly warming to Quartermain, joins his quest for answers. One person who won’t be able to help is Dr. Bain, who’s been collaborating with Jem on a book about poisons. When Bain is found dead in his home, Jem naturally suspects poison. The suspects include the infirmary’s other doctors, many of whom hated Bain because of professional jealousy or due to his reputation as a womanizer. Jem also worries about her father, who hasn’t been himself, perhaps because his brother is in the final stages of madness. The next to die is the wife of Dr. Catchpole, who was in love with Bain and accused her husband of killing him. Jem is sure she and Quartermain are clever enough to catch the killer, but she’s not prepared for the horrors they will uncover and the extent of the malevolence they must overcome.
A debut mystery chock full of mysterious doings, riveting historical detail, and so many horrifying anecdotes about the state of medicine in the mid-1800s that you can almost feel the evil miasma rising from the pages.