A Lady in Shadows

Written by Elisabeth Dyssegaard (trans.) Lene Kaaberbøl
Review by Ilysa Magnus

On June 2, 1894, French president Marie François Sadi Carnot is assassinated by an Italian. In the streets of Varbourg, where Madeleine Karno resides, there are riots, killings and chaos. When one woman of the night is found murdered, with brutal incisions and no sign of a struggle, Madeleine is called to the scene to undertake an examination at the site and then to perform an autopsy. At her physician-father’s side, Madeleine has learned forensic pathology despite the societal pressures against women becoming doctors. Yet Madeleine will not be deterred.

On the heels of several other recent mysterious deaths, everyone wonders whether there is a Jack the Ripper roaming the streets of Varbourg. After she is given the title “Mademoiselle Death” in a local newspaper, Madeleine is determined to track down the killer even if it means investigating in the underbelly of Varbourg.

This is the second in the Madeleine Karno series, and even though I haven’t read the first, I found no impediment in getting up to speed on the characters and the environment. The plot becomes more complex when Madeleine is accepted at the University as a physiology student and the number of characters multiplies. But what struck me was Madeleine’s absolute determination to be recognized as a medical professional and her willingness to work doubly hard to accomplish her goals. Kaaberbol’s mystery is thick with detail—about the times, medical procedures and mores. It is a satisfying read, although I do think that it was a bit long and could have used some editing.