Murder by Lamplight – Patrice McDonough

In her debut novel, Patrice McDonough creates an engaging murder mystery. I couldn’t guess the murderer at all, but I thought the characters could have been more robust. Overall, I give the book a 3.5-star rating, but the mystery a 5-star. 

Bucking rules, laws, and expectations, Dr. Julia Lewis, through a loophole, is licensed to actively practice medicine in England. While covering her grandfather’s practice after his illness, she hasn’t managed to gain many clients – who’d trust a woman to treat them?/s However, she’s given the chance to consult as a public service when her grandfather is called to examine a body for the police and is still too weak to go. 

Mistrustful of her at first, Detective Inspector Richard Tennant is reluctant to use her services, but needs must. He soon finds her a competent professional and a keen observer. As more bodies appear, both the doctor and inspector become convinced that they are linked. The pursuit of the culprit is top priority, but the police seem to be stonewalled wherever they turn. When the killer seems like he’s added the doctor to his list, the inspector must move quickly to save her life. 

Let’s talk plot first: it was awesome. I never guessed the murderer, and the twist at the end was fantastic. The plot didn’t move along very quickly; there was a lot of investigative detail, which I appreciated. It was nice to not have the inspector get attacked physically in any way. I also liked following the red herrings and more mundane processes. It was more realistic than dramatic, and that was nice for a change.

There was plenty of suspense, however: the inspector kept receiving threatening notes and McDonough gave us glimpses into the killer’s mind. She did this very well, without giving anything about his identity away. I liked that it was kept a secret until the end. Readers got to see the inspector’s, doctor’s, and killer’s thoughts, which kept them well abreast of the developments, given that the doctor and inspector overlapped so often. She found clues through her observations and clinic work, and he had to ensure her safety. Is it any wonder that a little spark of attraction developed?

I’m not surprised that the inspector was interested in the doctor; competent, professional, opinionated women were not generally created or encouraged in Victorian times. They certainly didn’t work or think for a living. I think the fact that he liked the doctor surprised the inspector, but he adjusted quickly. I’m a little surprised the attraction continued, though, because the doctor was rather haughty. I respected her efforts and the adversities she faced, but didn’t care for her attitude about…anything.

I respect someone who’s fought for where they’ve got to, and the doctor certainly had. She had to go to America to even get her medical degree, and most of her father’s patients wouldn’t see her because she was a woman. However, in every conversation with the inspector, she was challenging and debating him, and I’m not sure he deserved that. Sure, he doubted her when she first appeared, but who wouldn’t for something so out of the norm? After he received her first report he was assured of her competence and never questioned her or her skills. 

I felt that acceptance of the doctor’s professionalism was a big enough mark of respect from the inspector, however, the doctor didn’t think so. Every chance she got she was needling him about his/society’s opinion of women – she never bothered to ask his opinion, so why should I make a distinction between them – even though he didn’t lecture her on her inferiority, tell her off for not having a career, or impugn the value of women in any way. It was like she was fighting against accusations and arguments that he hadn’t even made. She wanted him to see past her femaleness to her medical training, but wouldn’t allow him the same courtesy of looking past his maleness to the inspector.

I think the doctor came on much too strongly in this book; the feminist agenda was way too overt and I found it offensive to the inspector, who seemed like a thoroughly decent man. I’m not denying that the doctor should be working to the advantage of women who want careers, but I think she should be speaking to someone who needs convincing. Other than her surety of the feminist cause and her own lack of fallibility, I’m sure she’s quite nice. She certainly seems competent. All in all, I give the mystery plot for Murder By Lamplight five stars, but the pomposity of the doctor and overt feminism brought my overall rating down to 3.5. Other readers may not mind it as much, but this is a bone that irritates me, and that I’ve picked with books in other reviews. Regardless, if you’re looking for a good mystery with a great twist, give this a try!

Published by SamIAmReading

I am an avid reader and lover of historical mysteries and romances, but happy to take review requests and expand my horizons! All opinions in this blog are my own and have been given freely.

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