In historian and archivist LeFurgy’s debut novel, a brilliant, eccentric medical examiner exposes crime, corruption, and sexist and racist attitudes in 1909 Baltimore.
The author’s considerable research acumen is on display on each page of this sure-handed tale, which introduces pathologist Sarah Kennecott, a gifted and socially awkward recent graduate of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Sarah, who’s presented as being on the autism spectrum (but undiagnosed), brings keen observational skills to her work. During her autopsy of dancing girl Lizzie Sullivan, Sarah comes to her own conclusions and fears that Horace Shaw, a candidate for mayor, is being framed for the murder. In order to prove her theory and bring the real killer to justice, Sarah works with private eye Jack Harden, who looks the part of a hard-boiled detective: “a tall, clean-shaven man in his late twenties, lean as a wolf, a battered derby pulled low over his eyes.” He’s an Army veteran who’s seeking to escape ghosts of the past; he also has some idiosyncrasies, including a fear of elevators. However, Jack also has a sharp sense of how money, power, and corruption are all fuel for the city’s “mad energy.” In alternating chapters, LeFurgy focuses on either Sarah’s or Jack’s perspective. The author maintains suspense throughout, and the case’s unexpected twists test the two as they use their skills to uncover the truth. What makes this mystery stand out, however, is its seamless integration of vivid details of daily life in 1909, its unflinching portrayal of the sexism and racism of the time, and its evocation of the era’s sounds, smells, and tastes. At one point, for instance, Jack walks along Baltimore Street, noticing how “the clip-clop of the passing horses was different in the rain—the sound was clearer and richer”; later, as he climbs the steps of a police station, his eyes water from the smell of a vinegar factory. An author’s note provides further information about such subjects as autism and PTSD.
A multilayered, entertaining mystery that introduces a promising pair of detectives.
Pub Date: April 15, 2020
Page Count: 319
Publisher: High Kicker Books
Review Posted Online: March 3, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020