Murder by Degrees

Written by Ritu Mukerji
Review by Waheed Rabbani

In 1875 Philadelphia, at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, Dr. Lydia Weston is busy as a doctor, professor, and anatomist. She learns of the death by drowning of one of her patients, a young chambermaid, Anna, deemed a suicide. But Dr. Weston is suspicious, and she is soon brought into the police investigation. She is aided by a diary filled with cryptic passages of poetry and discovers more about the young woman she thought she knew. Lydia draws nearer to the truth using her autopsy skills and clinical expertise: a terrible secret, long hidden, is revealed. But Lydia must act soon before she becomes the next target of those who wished to silence Anna.

This intriguing murder mystery is full of clinical details, and the author is a doctor. The gripping who-done-it and the killer-seeking-vengeance features are well presented. The novel reads much like a thriller. Mukerji’s in-depth research seamlessly includes the plight of 19th-century women physicians in gaining acceptance as “real” doctors. Lydia also faces scorn for investigating a crime.

The period’s norms and the dialogue are well depicted. The history of the first Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania is nicely added, including mention of its earliest graduates. The novel is an attention-grabbing murder mystery written in an elegant style reminiscent of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Those unfamiliar with that era in Philadelphia will find it most interesting. Mukerji’s fans will eagerly await the next installment of what appears to be a series. Recommended.