Today Mandie is sharing her thoughts on Beloved Poison by E.S. Thomson. Mandie has always loved historical fiction and having heard the author on a panel at Newcastle Noir in December, knew the Jem Flockhart series would be right up her street. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
A dark and richly atmospheric thriller, perfect for fans of Laura Purcell’s The Silent Companions, Sarah Perry’s Melmoth and Elly Griffiths’ The Stranger Diaries.
Ramshackle and crumbling, St Saviour’s Infirmary awaits demolition. Within its stinking wards and cramped corridors the doctors bicker and fight. Ambition, jealousy and hatred seethe beneath the veneer of professional courtesy.
Always an outsider, and with a secret of her own to hide, apothecary Jem Flockhart observes everything, but says nothing.
And then six tiny coffins are uncovered, inside each a handful of dried flowers and a bundle of mouldering rags. When Jem comes across these strange relics hidden inside the infirmary’s old chapel, her quest to understand their meaning prises open a long-forgotten past – with fatal consequences . . .
Jem Flockhart works in the apothecary at St Saviour’s Infirmary alongside her father. It has been decided that the infirmary is to be closed and torn down and Will Quartermain has been sent to oversea the removal of the bodies buried in the graveyard that is in the grounds. Initially Jem is put out by his arrival especially as Will is to share quarters with Jem for Jem is not quite what he seems. Whilst showing Will around the site they come across six small caskets that have what appears to be small dolls in them it leads them to discover things that have been kept a secret for a very long time. When one of the doctors is murdered it becomes very clear that there are those that want these things to remain a secret and will do anything to ensure that it stays that way.
Jem Flockhart is not your typical character. You learn quite early on that Jem is hiding a secret forced by circumstance and the times making the story that much more intriguing and gives the reader much more of an insight into the inequalities of the time. Although she seems very abrupt and aloof as the book progresses you understand that it is as much about survival as it is down to character. The blossoming friendship between Jem and Will and their determination to get to the bottom of the puzzle is perfect and you truly believe that Will accepts Jem no matter what the truth.
With dubious practices brought to light there are not many within the walls of St Saviours that come out of this unscathed. What is shocking that those doing wrong really believe that it is for the greater good and that they should be praised and not punished. Added to all this Jem is struggling with the failing health of her father and becomes party to what can only be described as a most bizarre form of treatment that you can ever come across.
Beloved Poison is the first book in the Jem Flockhart series and was also debut novel for the author. Transported back to Victorian times E.S. Thomson has created characters that are intelligent and complex. Her descriptions of Edinburgh and medical practices ensure that the reader is transported right to the heart of the story and I for one am grateful that there have been so many advances in thinking and practice. I am not going to lie however when I say that some of the more gruesome descriptions had me going ewwww and ooooo at the same time. With the perfect blend of murder, mystery and history this is one series I am going to have to delve further into.
About the Author
E. S. Thomson’s work has been longlisted for the CWA Endeavour Historical Dagger, and shortlisted for the Saltire Prize, the Scottish Arts Council First Book Award and the William McIlvanney Crime Book of the Year Award. She has a PhD in the social history of medicine, and tries to fit as much medical history into her books as possible. She works as a university lecturer by day, and writes by night. Elaine lives in Edinburgh with her two sons.