ANTIDOTE TO MURDER takes readers on a second visit to Edwardian England to catch up with Dorothy ‘Dody’ McCleland, the female autopsy surgeon we first met in A DISSECTION OF MURDER. Dody is once again working part time as an assistant to the Home Office’s famous pathologist Bernard Spilsbury but it is her other work, at women’s clinic, that is the source of her difficulties in this novel. A young maid who seeks Dody’s help with her unwanted pregnancy dies some days later and Dody is accused of performing an illegal abortion. With her career, her freedom and possibly her very life are at risk Dody must discover what did happen to the unfortunate young woman so she can clear her name and prevent further deaths.
As with the first novel in this series the sense of time and place is beautifully conveyed. Readers are soon enveloped in the stifling, uncomfortable London of 1911 where the summer sees a long heat wave and various worker’s strikes (trains, rubbish collection and so on). In Dody’s well-off layer of society women fight for the right to vote and be treated equally in the workplace while poorer, working-class women struggle to be allowed to treat their bodies as their own as they carry the lion’s share of the fallout from pregnancies that society or finances deem unmanageable. Meanwhile, at a political level, there is great concern over the possible infiltration of England by German spies and swift action is demanded.
When Dody is accused she discovers who her friends are, and aren’t. Her family, including her young and impetuous sister Florence, stand by her as does the policeman she met in the first novel, Matthew Pike. All three of these characters are nicely rounded and offer different insights on events as allowed by their ages, personal histories and genders. The potential romantic relationship between Dody and Matthew appears doomed at the start of the novel, when he disappears from the hospital before the knee operation that Dody has organised to repair his war wound can be carried out, but when events force the pair together again there seems to be hope they’ll work through the obstacles to their being together.
I’m not sure how Young manages to find the time, or the pages, to offer these insights into place and people because there is a lot going on in the story and the suspense never stops building. Dody is more worried by what she learns about the dangerous ‘treatments’ being offered to poor women than she is about saving her own career as she seeks to uncover who is selling lead tablets (!) which could kill the young women who are simply desperate for a way out of their predicaments. At the same time she battles against a plagiarising colleague and tries to help a working class family who have more children than they can cope with, to the point there are accusations of infanticide. And I haven’t even mentioned Matthew’s undercover operation to draw out a possible spy working in a controversial musical theatre production.
If you have even a vague interest in historical crime fiction I heartily recommend ANTIDOTE TO MURDER. It’s jam-packed with fascinating period details, well-drawn and memorable characters and is a ripper of a yarn to boot. You don’t have to have read the first in the series to make sense of this one but I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t to read them both. Immediately.
I’m counting this towards my tally for the Australian Women Writers Challenge
Publisher: Harper Collins 
Length: 329 pages
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