RogerBW's Blog

The Poisonous Seed, Linda Stratmann 15 April 2018

2011 historical mystery, first of a series. In Victorian London, Frances Doughty assists her ailing father in his pharmacy; but someone dies after drinking one of their tonics, and he's the obvious person to blame. But Frances is sure there must be more to the tale.

This is an oddly dissonant book. The research is excellent; I spotted obscure things I'd found before, and nothing rang false the way it so often does in historical novels. Stratmann has steered a careful course between making her heroine thoroughly modern in attitude (which would get the reader's sympathy but be ahistorical) and making her thoroughly a person of her times, ending up rather closer to the latter but well within the spectrum of plausibility.

On the other hand I never felt engaged, the way I have been by Perry's Inspector Monk or even Shaw's Vanessa Duncan. There is a great solid mass of period detail, and I'm entirely willing to believe it's genuine, but it does rather get in the way of anything happening for pages at a time. Frances manages to be both revolutionary, in her desperate attempts to track down the details of the mystery for herself, and bland. And the mystery plot itself is really not something that I feel can be solved on the basis of the clues given in the book; one might hypothesise, but that's all it would be.

(Does anyone in this world have a happy marriage? Not according to this book, at any rate.)

I didn't hate it, but found it slow going (taking several days to finish); I'll probably read another at some point, but I'm not hastening to buy it. Followed by The Daughters of Gentlemen.

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