Primary Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Mystery
Published: 2 March 2021 by Park Row Books
Page count: 320
My Format: eBook via NetGalley
Do I Recommend: Yes
Commission Link (U.S.): Buy The Lost Apothecary
My rating: ★★★★☆
Rule #1: The poison must never be used to harm another woman.
Rule #2: The names of the murderer and her victim must be recorded in the apothecary’s register.
One cold February evening in 1791, at the back of a dark London alley in a hidden apothecary shop, Nella awaits her newest customer. Once a respected healer, Nella now uses her knowledge for a darker purpose—selling well-disguised poisons to desperate women who would kill to be free of the men in their lives. But when her new patron turns out to be a precocious twelve-year-old named Eliza Fanning, an unexpected friendship sets in motion a string of events that jeopardizes Nella’s world and threatens to expose the many women whose names are written in her register.
In present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, reeling from the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. When she finds an old apothecary vial near the river Thames, she can’t resist investigating, only to realize she’s found a link to the unsolved “apothecary murders” that haunted London over two centuries ago. As she deepens her search, Caroline’s life collides with Nella’s and Eliza’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.
I love 18th and 19th Century mysteries (gothic) and particularly ones that take place in London and prominently involve women. This book ticked a lot of boxes for me. Here are my pros and cons for The Lost Apothecary:
- I was drawn in immediately and completely hooked. The story is fast-paced and richly descriptive.
- The book alternates between present day (Caroline) and past (Nella, the apothecary). The transitions between periods were smooth and effective. The story never lagged or got boring at all.
- Even if it seemed a bit like some serious beginner’s luck, I loved how the author connected the present to the past with the mudlarking discovery. I thought that was creative and hopefully more people will learn what mudlarking is now!
- Strong, smart, and unforgettable female leads, both present and past. Caroline, Nella, and young Eliza are very well-developed.
- Caroline’s husband infuriated me, particularly with what he pulls at the end of the book. I will leave it at that.
- Atmospheric to the max. The apothecary was superbly described! I felt like I was there! There was a strong gothic feel to the novel.
- What I wouldn’t give to read that register!
- The ending is perfect.
- I have a pet peeve. In the book, it clearly states that Caroline (present day) graduated with a degree in British history, but that she preferred to pursue knowledge about the lives of the regular people in history rather than the dry facts and figures of prominent people and events. So, it surprised me that she had absolutely no clue what mudlarking was. I don’t study history, but even I know what mudlarking is from the period fiction I’ve read. Surely someone who studied British history with a specific interest in the common folk would have come across that at some point!
- There were a few too many convenient situations in the story (i.e., the exact historical information necessary to solve the mystery seemed to be too readily available). While this convenience was necessary for the story to reach a conclusion, I’m sure historians who read this book will wish information was so readily available and puzzle pieces would fit together as nicely and as quickly for their research!
I really liked this book. Yes, there are some convenient situations that helped move the story along. Yes, it bothers me that Caroline didn’t know what mudlarking was. But overall, I savored this story! It is well-developed with strong female characters, completely engrossing, and it had an amazingly mysterious gothic feel to it. This is a wonderful debut novel! I will keep my eye out for this author in the future!
Thank you NetGalley and Park Row Books for providing an ebook, which I have reviewed honestly and voluntarily.
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