The Specimen

Written by Martha Lea
Review by Marilyn Sherlock

Between 1859 and 1866, Gwen Carrick and her sister Euphemia live by the Helford River in Cornwall. Gwen is an artist specialising in drawing and painting bugs, while Euphemia practices spiritualism, drawing clients from near and far. One day Gwen meets Edward Scales on the beach and discovers that he is an entomologist. Their relationship grows despite the fact that he is already married to one of Euphemia’s clients.

The story covers much ground, but I found the pace very slow and the characters as wooden as the trees of the Amazon rainforest to where the story deviates. The author seems more obsessed with the human doings of the ‘birds and the bees’ than recording the South American wildlife for posterity. The actual murder of Edward Scales seven years after he and Gwen meet is recorded through press handouts from the court and is almost written as an afterthought.

The prose aims to be Victorian, and the whole book comes across as a Victorian melodrama. This is Martha Lea’s first novel, and I wish her success in her future career, but personally I regret to say that I did not like this book.