Dark Asylum: A Jem Flockhart Novel
This is the second in the series that features Jem Flockhart, the young apothecary, who made her debut in Beloved Poison (reviewed in HNR 77). Jem’s big secret is that although being a female, she has passed herself as a boy and then man for most of her life—a ploy by her dead father to allow her to learn and continue the family apothecary business. Her large facial strawberry birthmark would also have persuaded her father that Jem would have found it highly difficult to make any sort of worthwhile marriage. With St. Saviour’s hospital having relocated, most of the action in the novel takes place in the adjacent, eponymous Angel Meadow asylum, where Jem makes up prescriptions for the medical staff there. Just like the hospital in the previous novel, the asylum is a hotbed of intrigue, jealousy and hatred amongst the staff, and there is a murder or two for Jem and her friend Will Quartermain to investigate. The author is clever in scattering enough clues, with a back-story, for the reader to follow what is going on and consider so that you have a fairly good idea who is responsible for the deaths. But with a series of coincidences, the truth is a little more complex. Jem, as one would expect, discovers all, but nearly at the cost of her own life.
It is a well-written and carefully plotted gothic tale, though perhaps not quite as absorbing as Beloved Poison, as the atmosphere and the grand-guignol assaults on the reader (of which there are many) may seem rather too rooted in the grungy atmosphere of the previous novel. Enjoyable and engaging nevertheless, and E.S. Thomson is already writing the third of this pungently murderous series.