The death of a prostitute in Victorian London has personal relevance for a secretive sleuth.
Apothecary Jem Flockhart disguises herself as a man so she can practice her profession. Not even her apprentice, Gabriel, is aware of her deception. A cryptic letter from fellow apothecary John Aberlady prompts Jem and her occasional sidekick, Will Quartermain, to visit the Seaman’s Floating Hospital, known locally as “The Blood,” where Aberlady works. But Aberlady is absent, having left the ship in an agitated state. Jem, who’s long suspected Aberlady of being an opium eater, worries that his disappearance is connected to this addiction. A short time later, Jem and Will are walking along the waterfront when Jem spots a body in the shallow water. Pulled out, the corpse is identified as that of street girl Mary Mercer, who promptly interrupts Jem’s first-person narrative with her own posthumous account of her route to prostitution and ruin. Another similar report comes from Jenny Quickly, whom Jem has already met as Aberlady’s apprentice aboard The Blood. Yet another chilling narrative thread woven throughout explores the perspective of the killer, who throws out self-identifying hints even as Jem and Will intensify their search. Jem takes Jenny under her wing, both for her protection and to help understand the disappearance of Aberlady. The key to unraveling the mystery seems to lie at “Siren House, the premises of the League for Female Redemption,” where both Mary and Jenny live. Clearly, Jem must tread carefully.
Thomson’s third Jem Flockhart mystery (Dark Asylum, 2017, etc.) is grim but compelling, with a righteous heroine you can’t help but root for.