I only discovered Felicity Young’s series of historical mysteries about forensic pathologist and surgeon Dr Dody McClelland last year.”Forensic pathology”, I hear you say “Pah! been there, done that”. But Dr McClelland is unique. She is working as an autopsy surgeon in pre-World War I London.
The Insanity of Murder is the fourth in the series of novels about Dr McClelland written by Western Australian author Felicity Young. Dody (Dorothy) has become an autopsy surgeon because no other avenue in surgery is open to her. She works under Bernard Spilsbury, the famous (or notorious) forensic expert who gave evidence which convicted the murderers in a number of well known cases such as that of Hawley Crippen, and the “Brides in the Bath” murders.
Dody comes from an unconventional family of Fabians and her sister Florence is a suffragette. The stories of the series are set against the background of women’s struggle for the vote in Britain, which was not attained until 1918 for women of property over 30, and 1928 for others.
Much of the appeal of this book and the others in the series lies in the historical background. In The Insanity of Murder we learn about medical treatment for women with “hysteria”, the dramatic sacrifice of suffragette Emily Davison, and the brutal horror of force feeding suffragettes on hunger strikes. We also see the prejudice, lack of training and racism in the police force.
In the first novel Dody formed a romantic relationship with detective Matthew Pike, and this relationship grows closer through the series. In this book Florence is in trouble with the law and Pike and Dody’s relationship is attracting attention. Dody is faced with choices – should she lie to protect her sister or be truthful to the police? Should she marry Pike or keep her job?
Despite the serious subject matter, the tone is fairly light and the book is an easy read with cozy overtones. There were a few points in the plot that were not resolved, and the villains tended towards stereotypes, but the story is intriguing and the main characters are endearing. I hope there are more to come.