Thursday, September 12, 2019
Book Review: 'Beloved Poison' by E.S. Thomson
This spooky and seductive novel is set in nineteenth century London, with a protagonist who is—to say the least--a bit out of the ordinary. The narrator is the motherless Jem Flockhart, a twenty-four year old woman who poses as a man with her father's blessing. Jem, like her father, is an apothecary, a profession that is closed to females. Father and daughter work together in the fetid, damp, and dilapidated St. Saviour's Infirmary, an unwholesome place that is more likely to kill its patients then cure them. Jem cultivates herbs and is skilled at preparing therapeutic potions and salves.
In E. S. Thomson's "Beloved Poison," Jem is forced to share her quarters with William Quartermain, a junior architect who has been assigned the unenviable and grisly task of excavating a nearby cemetery and directing the relocation of its corpses. When this project is completed, workers will demolish St. Saviour's to make way for a railway bridge. This is a multifaceted, darkly humorous, and gripping tale that features sinister secrets; a hereditary illness that dooms its victims; desperate ladies of the night driven to sell the only commodity they have—their bodies; grave robbers; and a series of gruesome murders.
The dialogue evokes the era perfectly, and Thomson's cast is Dickensian in its richness. This intriguing work of historical fiction draws us into its tangled web and, along with Jem, we try to identify the villain who takes one life after another with impunity. Like Anne Perry and others who have written evocatively about Victorian times, the author depicts a society of haves and have-nots, in which servants pamper the comfortable upper classes while the wretched poor barely subsist in overcrowded, squalid, and disease-ridden slums. Elaine Thompson has created a brooding and suspenseful mystery that demonstrates how lust, arrogance, and envy can drive people mad and lead them to commit unspeakable crimes.
Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.