Book Review: A Case of Doubtful Death by Linda Stratmann

A Case of a Doubtful DeathA Case of Doubtful Death: A Frances Doughty Mystery by Linda Stratmann

Review by Gordon O’Sullivan
Paperback: 283 pages
Publisher: The Mystery Press (2013)
Language: English
ISBN 978-0-7524-7018-4  £8.99
Purchase from |

In this, her third case, the reputation of Frances Doughty, Victorian female private detective has grown substantially. Now known as a discrete London investigator she has become an expert at solving small mysteries like lost pets, unusual ones like the alligator who is reputed to bask daily in the Serpentine and gruesome ones like murder.  Her reputation has in fact grown to such an extent that she now has a fictional counterpart, Miss Dauntless, the lady detective of Bayswater, heroine of a series of romance novels.

In A Case of Doubtful Death, Miss Doughty investigates the fascinatingly bizarre world of the Life House. This is a mortuary where the corpses of clients are left to decompose after deathwhilst mortuary staff check that there is no mistaken diagnosis and ensure the client does not suffer the fate of being buried alive.  Frances is engaged to find Henry Palmer, a young mortuary assistant and one of the Life House’s most reliable employees, who went missing the same night that one of the founders of the Life House, Dr Mackenzie, was found dead. As Frances keeps digging to uncover the truth surrounding Palmer’s disappearance and Mackenzie’s death, her investigations, despite the obstructive male medical establishment, lead to the uncovering of fraud, blackmail, and finally murder.

Frances Doughty is a great character, a strong young woman determined not to accept the strictures of Victorian society when it comes to her career. Consulting detective is an unusual career for a woman in Victorian times but Frances is an unusual woman. She talks composedly of distressing medical matters with doctors reluctant to accord her the same respect as they would a man, she has bodies dug up and even dresses as a man; escaping the confines of social convention to further her cases. She has a keen wit, “he smelled of gutta-percha and the burnt rubber scent of dead sap was the liveliest thing about him”, but she is not a revolutionary, Frances keeps her thoughts to herself when they do not serve her clients or her cases.

It is a pity then that there are too many minor characters clogging up the story, and consequently not allowing the character of Frances to take centre stage; there seems little opportunity for the reader to get to know her better. The narrative is similarly hampered with the main plot interspersed with too many sub plots which slow the action down at critical junctures. While these stories are cleverly plotted so Frances can eventually unravel them, Miss Doughty is involved in too many cases in this latest episode for the main narrative to compel.

The novel’s setting is perhaps its strongest suit.  The intriguing and strange place that is the Life House is expertly described with a level of detail that would satisfy the curiosity of the most exacting reader and here the author’s non-fiction writing is a huge asset. Throughout the novel there is an obvious and intimate knowledge of Victorian life, from the polite side to the wild side that both absorbs and reassures the reader.

A Case of Doubtful Death will surely not be the last report we have of Frances, the doughty lady detective of Bayswater.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Interview with Priya Sharma, author of ‘The Orchid Hunters’

Priya Sharma has written two stories for Alt Hist so far: ‘The Bitterness of Apples’ in Issue 1 and ‘The Orchid Hunters’ in Issue 2. She kindly answered a few questions for Alt Hist.

How did you get into writing?

Reading a great book transported me but it also made me envious. I realised I wanted to write too and was making excuses not to. Some people find it a natural, easy process but I had to go through a very big pain barrier to make a start. Writing can feel like pulling teeth but nothing beats the thrill of completing a story (except for an editor accepting it, of course).

What do you do apart from writing?

I love books and films. It’s my mother’s fault. She introduced me to Hardy and Hitchcock. I’m a doctor by day.

How did you come up with the idea of writing about Victorian orchid hunters?

Men once died looking for what we can now get at the local garden centre. I find the history of the mundane fascinating- wars were once waged over coffee and nutmeg. Orchids are a window into a certain strata of Victorian society and its ideals. When I saw a documentary that showed elephants cradling the bones of their dead I knew I wanted to work it into a story and the ‘elephant orchid’ was born.

Are you working on any other short stories or novels at the moment and if so can you tell us a bit more about them?

I have two novels sat on my hard drive that need reworking- one is a historical fantasy and the other science fiction. I’m currently writing a horror short about the recession. The other piece I’m wrestling with is about a woman haunted by the failure of her marriage.

What are your ambitions as a writer?

To write more and write better. To be better at plotting. My approach to writing doesn’t lend itself to tight story structure, so it means I have to do a lot of rewrites to get a story I’m happy with. If I was better at planning it would also make it easier for me to write another novel.

Priya’s website: contains more information and links to her other work.

Don’t forget to read the free extracts of Priya’s stories ‘The Bitterness of Apples’ and ‘The Orchid Hunters’.

Enhanced by Zemanta
%d bloggers like this: