In Edwardian England the suffragettes are so frustrated at the lack of success they’ve attained via political means that they introduce a more militant form of campaigning. Unfortunately their decision to blow up a building – criminal enough in its own right – becomes disastrous when it claims human life. For Dr Dody McCleland, a female autopsy surgeon, the case proves problematic as her own sister was involved. Thinking he is doing the right thing Dody’s friend (and not-so-secret lover) Chief Inspector Matthew Pike arranges for Florence’s release from prison, though the ‘rest home’ to which she is sent in replacement is scarcely less harmful to its inmates and Dody and Matthew are soon uncovering truly appalling practices.
As with its three predecessors this book uses the solving of a crime by compassionate investigators as the means of highlighting a fascinating historical subject. In this instance it is the appalling way that many women – having few rights of their own – were subjected to enforced detention and various barbaric forms of ‘treatment’ for the mental ailments they were perceived to be full of (almost always by the men who believed the women to be their possessions). The view that some men have of some (all?) women is perhaps best demonstrated by this sentiment, espoused by the head of the home to which Florence and other ‘imbalanced’ women have been consigned
Doctor Fogarty says reading’s the very worst thing a woman of delicate inclinations should be doing – it’s one of the reasons so many women get themselves into trouble these days. So to answer your question, no miss, we have no library here.
While there’s always a gentle undercurrent of humour, here much of it provided by a delightfully larger-than-life character called Lady Mary who is the mother of a nobleman and regular escapee of the facility that Florence ultimately attends, serious issues are handled with deference and intelligence. While the treatment of women is, as always, the main topic being explored the broader social context of class and racial injustice is also much in evidence.
Equally as intriguing as the historical setting are the characters. In contrast to her younger sister – the impulsive, well-meaning but sometimes thoughtless Florence – Dody McCleland chooses to advance the cause of women by being the kind of woman she thinks everyone should have a right to be. She has fought to gain her qualifications and has taken on the only work available to her but always performs it to the best of her abilities. Her personal life is not straight forward either as she must keep her relationship with Matthew a secret (or try to) even from some of the people she loves. Matthew too has to balance his professional duties with the expectations others have of him and the social norms of the day. These, for example, prevent him openly promoting a person he thinks most qualified because Constable Singh is a foreigner and his very presence in the Force is cause for unrest. I really enjoy the way Young has developed these two central characters and kept them growing and responding to the world around them. I’m also pleased that this series hasn’t become one of those with an unresolved sexual tension at its core. Although their relationship is a difficult one Dody and Matthew’s is at least a realistic one.
It’s probably hard for me to judge as I’ve devoured this novel’s predecessors but I do think you would be able to read THE INSANITY OF MURDER independently as it’s a stonkingly good story in its own right. Its historical context is worryingly credible, its characters are charming and real and the suspense builds nicely towards a surprising ending. What are you waiting for?
THE INSANITY OF MURDER will be officially released on 1 August.
Publisher: Harper Collins 
Length: 320 pages
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