Dreadful. That is the only word that I can come up with to describe this long and drawn out book. Trying either to shock the reader with the subject matter or to lure them in with the detailed gynecological practices of a villainous doctor in 1880’s France, or if that is not enough, the unbeknownst relationships of Madeline Karno’s fiancé – which really served no point. The book should have been wall-banged within the first 100 pages.
Trying to disguise a failed, what we now call a cesarean section, as the acts of a French Jack the Ripper, Madeleine Karno, who we were introduced to in ‘Doctor Death’ begins to see tell tail signs and sets off to find the hideous person brutalizing the local prostitutes all in the name of science.
Lene Kaaberbol goes into curious detail about the time and place, but tends to go overboard for shock value. The doctor at the center of this fiasco reads more like Josef Mengele, the Auschwitz Angel of Death, in his need to find perfect subjects to rebuild France’s dwindling birth rates. Then throw in a person from August Dreyfuss’ past, and a photographer with his own naughty secrets, and those that should know better but do not do better when it comes to those in need.
Considering how I loved her first book in this series, this was a torture to read. The gruesomeness of the subject matter was not the issue for me, but rather how drawn out it all was. How in the end she tried to tie her storylines together and how unrealistic that it all played out. If there is a third book, I certainly hope that she tries not to throw too much in in hopes that something will catch the reader and that she reduces her fillers to keep the story flowing.
This is the second book in the Madeleine Karno series, so there will likely be spoilers in this review for the first book in the series. Or, if you’re like me and didn’t read the first book, Lady in Shadows is enjoyable as a standalone.
In 1894, the president of France was assassinated. In the wake of the riots and unrest that followed, the body of a young woman was discovered on the streets of Varbroug brutally mutilated in a fashion reminiscent of the Jack the Ripper murders which plagues London only a few years before. Madeleine Karno is struggling to continue her work as a female pathologist in a very male world. She has been accepted as the first female student at the University of Varbroug, but as a physiologist, not a medical student. With the brutal murder causing greater and greater amounts of sensation in the press and panic in the populace, Madeleine finds the investigation focused more on the victim’s status as a prostitute rather than who may have killed her. Determined to see justice done, Madeleine finds herself traveling farther and farther into the city’s dark secrets, and closer to a brutal killer.
This was a great historical mystery. The tone is dark where most entries in this genre tend towards the cozy. Madeleine Karno makes for a great protagonist. She is smart and driven, but not Wonder Woman. She makes mistakes, she falls into self doubt, and her struggles to reconcile her ambitions with her femininity seem very real and very relatable. This is no dilettante society dame dabbling in murder, or the ice queen career harpy we see so often. Rather, Karno knows she has brains and wants to use them, but is also trying to figure out how to balance her engagement to a German professor, the demands of running a household and (shudder) the possibility of children with realizing her goals of becoming a pathologist in her own right. This is a struggle that nearly every employed wo,an will recognize.
Those who enjoy period mysteries, especially featuring a strong and relatable female lead, should check this series out.
An audio book copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
This is the 2nd installment of the Madeline Karno series, and let me just say at the outset that it is a winner. The writing is nothing less than poetic, the plot quite different from anything I have read in quite a while. I must admit I have not read the first entry in the series, although I have read two of the books the author has written together with Agnete Friis, “Death of a Nightingale” and “The Boy in a Suitcase,” both excellent.
The tale takes place between June 24, 1894 and October of that same year, and a lot happens in between. Madeline’s father is a well-respected doctor, during which time she was his secretary “long before he officially agreed to let me assist him with the actual autopsies. I was fourteen when I began the first one.” As the tale opens, she is engaged to one Professor Dreyfuss, “the eminent parasitologist from Heidelberg.” Madeline had graduated from Madame Aubrey’s Academy for Young Ladies, where among things she was trained in “posture and manners.” She now seeks admission to the Institute of Physiology at the University, which is granted, making her one of the few female students admitted to the institute at all. (Of the more than 40 students, she is the only female in her lecture class.) She marvels that she has been handed “the keys to what I wished for most of all in the whole world: knowledge.” She soon finds herself working with the police to find the killer of these young women, the solution to which is nothing that they, or the reader, could ever have imagined.
A local journalist dubs Madeline “Mademoiselle Death,” quite alarming to her and making her father furious. Nonetheless, her investigation takes her to the Commission for Public Health and Decency, whose work is shocking to her as well as to the reader, including the thesis that “sexual reproduction drew mankind down into filth, disease, senility and ruin. Where woman was, there was also death.”
One of the most fascinating novels I have come across in a long time, it is recommended.