A second round of turn-of-the-last-century detection for aspiring French pathologist Madeleine Karno (Dr. Death, 2015) that lays on horrors of every sort they could imagine in 1894.
On the very day that the president of the Third Republic is stabbed to death by an Italian anarchist, the city of Varbourg is home to a much more modest homicide: the slashing of prostitute Rosalba Lombardi. Those who think her death was a hate crime directed in revenge against the Italian community don’t include Madeleine, whose sharp observations lead her to a theory of the murder that is as novel as it is unpleasant and set her on a collision course with a journalist whose headline screams: “JACK THE RIPPER IN VARBOURG!” Soon, however, that theory is moot, for Madeleine, whose application to the medical school at the University of Varbourg has been denied because she might prove a distraction to her male cohort, is accepted as a student by Adrian Althauser, a docent in physiology who, unlike every other member of the faculty, has expressed a particular interest in taking on female students. Madeleine works hard, answering questions smartly in class, vivisecting a squid without fainting (which is more than can be said of her lab partner), and braving the indifference of her mentor and the contempt of Erich Falchenberg, a former lover of her fiance, August Dreyfuss, professor of parasitology at Heidelberg University. Her reward, alas, is to learn that Althauser’s plans for her are very different indeed from what she’d expected—and then to learn that a second prostitute whom she’d befriended has been killed at exactly the same time she was learning the truth about Althauser.
Less detection than horror, less horror than plain old revulsion. But Kaaberbøl deploys strategically limited period detail with a surgical precision as great as her heroine’s to set her struggles in a context of anti-female bias past and present.