First Sentence: For days, clouds had hung over the frigid city, promising snow, and ephemeral late winter veneer of white, but the temperature had suddenly risen and a cold, stinging drizzle had arrived instead.
Dr. Ephraim Carroll has left his practice in Chicago to learn from the esteemed Dr. William Osler in Philadelphia. During an anatomy session, Osler the corpse of a young woman seems to be a shock to Osler and another student, Turk, bringing the class to an abrupt end. Upon Turk’s death, which Carroll discovers is from arsenic; questions arise for which Carroll is determined to find answers.
A strong opening that immediately establishes a clear sense of place and time is always a pleasure. Goldstone does not only that, but sets the mood and enables us to feel the apprehension of the protagonist.
Not only are we in the time and initial company of Arthur Conan Doyle, but the style of the narrative and dialogue reflect the prior, bringing the reader most assuredly into the Victorian period, such as with the description of the morgue…”It was a place of spirits, where the tortured souls of hundreds, perhaps thousands, who had died from abuse, disease, want or ignorance would spend their last moments in the company of the living before they were removed for their solitary rest and placed in the ground forever.” The inclusion of actual figures from the period only further cements this feeling. I was less happy, however, that some were used in ways which were vastly changed for the purpose of the plot. At least, the author kindly told us of these changes at the end of the book.
This is a time of great progress and advancements in medicine and surgical techniques such as women doctors and sterilization, as well as technology with the development of Eastman’s box camera. It is also the time when John’s Hopkins is being built and staffed. All these elements become important aspects of the plot although there were times when the medical details tended to overtake the plot.
The plot starts of quite sedately, but there’s certainly nothing boring about it. Threads and patterns begin to form. There is considerable medical and forensic information to which the more squeamish might object, but it is also fascinating. The characters also begin to take a more substantial form, particularly Simpson, the female student.
“The Anatomy of Deception” is delightfully unpredictable. The path of the plot turns suddenly and you are presented with something quite unexpected in a story of very good intrigue and suspense.
THE ANATOMY OF DECEPTION (Hist Mys-Dr. Ephraim Carroll-Philadelphia-1889) – VG
Goldstone, Lawrence – Standalone
Delacorte Press – January 2008