Nightshade (Jem Flockhart)

Written by E. S. Thomson
Review by Sally Zigmond

London 1851. This latest glimpse into the fascinating world of Jem Flockhart, esteemed apothecary and expert in poisons and their effects, finds her redesigning her physic garden full of the plants she and her staff use to create efficacious remedies for her eager customers. One hot summer day, she makes a gruesome discovery: The buried skeleton of a crippled man bearing the marks of several knife wounds, and that of a small monkey, plus various macabre objects, including berries and leaves of deadly nightshade, are crammed between the victim’s jaws. The police are not concerned with what they see as an old crime, so Jem and her loyal companion, Will, set out to solve this horrific crime. In doing so, they spark off several murders, the victims of which all have deadly nightshade berries stuffed between their jaws.

The trail they follow is a sensual journey into the human psyche, peopled by lunatics, doctors, opium, marijuana, and other mind-altering substances and poisons, mainly of the nightshade family. Coupled with Jem’s hunt to find the truth are extracts from the diary written by her deceased mother, Catherine Underhill, before she married Jem’s father. This diary lies at the heart of this novel. Jem was brought up by her father to carry on his apothecary’s trade as a man. This allows her to dress and behave as a Victorian gentleman and free to venture where no Victorian lady would ever be allowed. This is both a richly sensuous and but at times gruesome Gothic crime novel. It is a gripping read, and I am hooked on reading more novels in the series.