Surgeons’ Hall

Written by E. S. Thomson
Review by Douglas Kemp

Jem Flockhart, apothecary, and Will Quartermain return for another slice (the fourth in the series) of Grand Guignol mid-19th-century murder. It is 1851, and the pair are visiting the Great Exhibition and are fascinated by some anatomical models made of wax, constructed by the mysterious Dr Silas Strangeway, whose name should suggest that something is amiss. Indeed, the exhibit of interest is a dissected human hand. Jem’s interest is piqued, and when she returns the hand to Strangeway at Corvus Hall, a private anatomy school run by one Dr Crowe, the unidentified body which the hand belongs to is in the mortuary. There are all kinds of mysteries and oddities at the Hall, and the tale descends into a gruesome gothic stew of horror, secrets and mystery, focusing on Dr Crowe’s three weird daughters.

Jem Flockhart is a female, disguised as a male from the age of seven so that she could follow her father into the business, at a time when society would not accept that women could do the same job as men. The deception is helped by large disfiguring birthmark on her face. The longstanding relationship with Will is entirely platonic, but Jem is worried when is seems that Will, an architect by profession, might be drifting away to find employment at Corvus Hall. This is well-written historical fiction that steams along admirably. Perhaps the gore and horrors are occasionally laid on just a little too thick, and from a series perspective, both protagonists appear to be rather stuck in a rut; they aren’t developing or changing significantly from one story to the next.