Death of an Alchemist: A Bianca Goddard Mystery

Written by Mary Lawrence
Review by Rebecca Kightlinger

The Rat Man lifted his nose, catching the essence of alchemy, and tasted it on his tongue. Someone had discovered something of import. Someone had come as close as he had once done. Perhaps even closer.

Someone, indeed, has. Or believes he has. Ferris Stannum, one of 16th-century London’s many alchemists, is poised to send his formula for immortality off to Cairo for corroboration, when Bianca Goddard, a young chemiste, knocks on his door. She has searched out the venerated alchemist in the hope that he will teach her the process by which herbs may be combined with metals to produce a medicine that will ameliorate symptoms and cure disease. Once Bianca has proved herself to him, Stannum begins to teach her how to produce the brooding heat that will sublimate metal. But before he can impart all the knowledge his new apprentice requires, Stannum dies of a mysterious hemorrhagic disease that looks a lot like the dreaded sweat.

As Stannum’s landlady, and then his daughter and son-in-law, fall victim to this rapidly fatal malady, Bianca senses that it is not the sweat but a disease not before seen; and when her husband, John, begins to exhibit symptoms, the clock starts ticking on her search for the secret to producing Stannum’s elixir of life.

In the hands of this talented storyteller, what begins as a medical mystery develops into a quest and finally into a tough decision based on the question of eternal life: “If John fights his malady and survives this particular illness, then I believe he will live as long as his body serves his soul. But if his soul is finished with his body, should I concoct an elixir to prevent it from ever leaving?”

The answer may lie with the river-dwelling wraith, Rat Man.