Monday, February 16, 2015

Doctor Death by Lene Kaaberbol

The Basics:
Doctor Death by Lene Kaaberbol
Book One in the Madeleine Karno Mysteries
Historical, Mystery
Published February 17, 2015
Source: Received via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Amazon Kobo Goodreads

Why I picked up this book:

I really liked the cover, and I was in the mood for a mystery!


Madeleine Karno is an ambitious young woman eager to shatter the confines of her provincial French town. Driven and strong headed, Madeleine is set apart by her unusual occupation: assisting her father, Dr. Albert Karno, in his job as a forensic doctor.

The year is 1894, and a young girl is found dead on the snowy streets of Varbourg. Dr. Karno is called in to determine the cause of her death, but before he can examine the body, the girl's family forbids the autopsy from taking place. The only anomaly he manages to find is in the form of a mite in her nostril. Shortly after, several other dead bodies are discovered throughout the city, and Madeleine, her father, and the city commissioner must use the new science of forensic evidence to solve the mysterious cases before they all become the next victims of a deadly disease - or of a heinous murderer.
My thoughts:

It's been a really long time since I read a book that didn't have a really strong romantic component. Doctor Death absolutely satisfied my desire for historical fiction. There's some great detail, there's a really strong mystery. I really enjoyed it.

This book was originally published in, I'm going to say Danish, and is now being published by Atria in English. I'm not sure if this is a contributing factor, but the strongest element of this book for me was the language. Madeleine narrates the story for us, and does it with this beautiful, sparse, efficient, blunt voice that really set the entire tone of the book me. I could easily read more books with Madeleine at the helm because I loved reading her perspective.

There's quite a bit of tension in Doctor Death between Madeleine's desire to be a valued participant in her father's work as a medical examiner and the traditional societal limitations for a woman during this late nineteenth century period as well as her father's need for an assistant. I enjoyed the give-and-take as Madeleine stepped in to assist (or take over when her father was unable to perform his job) and when the investigation *required* her aid because she was a woman. She's very consistently focused on logic and reason and tries to reject emotional responses. In fact, Madeleine seems surprised and apologetic when a murder affects her emotionally. Despite her desire to erase her gender whenever it limits her, there are a few moments when Madeleine acknowledges the benefits of her femininity. The complexity of gender in this book is such a welcome change from some of the lighter reading I've been doing lately. 

The mystery itself had me intrigued. There's a sense of it unfolding against a backdrop of other crimes, and the novel leverages the historical context to add layers of depth to the story. The positioning of industry, railroads and the advancements of medical science alongside the convent that is one of the book's major set pieces provides a really tangible depiction of modernization in this historical period. The mystery itself plays on superstition and prejudice while utilizing science to propel the investigation. 

So, so good

Bottom line:

Doctor Death satisfied my craving for a good mystery and for historical fiction. It absolutely leverages the time period and setting to ramp up the mystery, and where it particularly excels is in tone and voice. I was swept up in this world, and I'd love to return to it and see what's in store next for Madeleine Karno!

5 stars
For fans of historical fiction, mysteries

But don't just take my word for it! I grabbed a few links to other blog reviews of Doctor Death:

CelticLady's Reviews

Journey of a Book Seller

Fresh Fiction for Today's Readers

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