Murder by Lamplight
February 27, 2024

Book Review

Murder by Lamplight

reviewed by Carolyn Scott


Set in Victorian London in 1866, this is the first in a historical mystery series featuring a female doctor, Dr Julia Lewis and a detective inspector, Richard Tennant. Encouraged to travel to Philadelphia to study medicine by her grandfather, Julia joined his practice in on her return to London.

She also established a clinic where hygiene and good nursing care results in better care for her patients, particularly with London in the grip of another deadly cholera outbreak.

Julia first meets Richard Tennant when he sends for her grandfather to attend a grisly murder in Whitechapel. With her grandfather recovering from an illness, Julia arrived at the scene instead. Although Tennant is sceptical that she will be able to view the sexually mutilated body and conduct a thorough post mortem, he is impressed with her skill and no-nonsense attitude and doesn’t hesitate to call on her again when a second body is found.

Tennant believes there is enough evidence to link these murders, although the victims couldn’t be more different, one a clergyman and the other a banker. The killer has left a token at each murder and, as further murders occur, delights in leading the police a merry dance by sending letters to Tennant, taunting him about his inability to solve the case.

The novel has a cast of unconventional and interesting characters. Julia with her practicality, medical training and feminist leanings is not a typical woman for her time, although her family background allows her to feel at home in society as well as venturing into seedy areas of the East End to treat patents or attend crime scenes.

Tennant is also a complex character, taciturn and reserved, who hasn’t quite found his place in the world. He had a promising career in the army but a family scandal led to him resigning his commission and his godfather then encouraged him to join the police. He clearly admires Julia but is not good at personal relationships, and often gets off on the wrong foot when talking to her. For her part, Julia is determined not to fall in love as marrying would mean giving up her career and financial independence.

The novel takes us into many areas of East London, some dark and seamy, including its workhouses, music halls, sewerage treatment works, and breweries. The author includes a lot of interesting facts about these in the novel, although perhaps some of this would have been better included as a note at the end of the book, to allow the narrative to flow more naturally. The overall plot is certainly intriguing as Tennant and his officers, Sergeant Graves and Constable O’Malley, follow several promising leads. However, they find it difficult to work out the killer’s motives and choice of victims and his identity turns out to be quite unexpected. This is a promising start to a new series with a gritty, engaging plot and intriguing characters I hope to get know better.

With thanks to Kensington Books via Netgalley for a copy to read.


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