"Devoured" by D.E. Meredith
Minotaur/Thomas Dunne, 291 pp., $24.99
Reviewed by David Marshall James
Call it "CSI: London, 1856."
A rash of grisly, horrifyingly prosaic murders is afoul in the snowy metropolis, victimizing proponents of progressivism in scientific thought.
Concurrently, a spate of little girls are turning up dead, many of them mutilated.
Thus, the morgue is overflowing at St. Bart's, and forensic pathologists Prof. Adolphus Hatton and his diener, Albert Roumande, are feverishly laboring to aid Scotland Yard in solving the crimes.
This, at a time when science and clerical thinking are clashing violently over creationism vs. the fossil record in geological strata. Over the Divinity of Man vis a vis the discoveries of Charles Darwin and others regarding the evolution of species, from lowly ants and beetles up to finches and tortoises, topping off with apes and man.
Traditionalists would rather not upset the proverbial apple cart. After all, Church and State are one in Mother England.
First-time British novelist D.E. Meredith ultimately suggests a "happy medium" philosophy, as extremists on both sides of the debate construct dire fates for themselves, rather than seeking the natural order of things.
Hatton and Roumande serve as the poster boys of the happy medium. They earnestly espouse respect for the then-embryonic science of forensics, viewed by many as barbarically sacreligious in its desecration of corpses. Roumande is forever dashing off pleas to potential patrons for the funds to secure the latest instruments of the trade.
Meredith immediately pulls the reader into her story, which offers such traditional mystery-novel conceits as purloined letters (indeed, these are at the heart of the plot, and there are actually two sets, by different hands) and rendezvous in dark alleys (when will gentle folk ever learn to steer clear of those?).
The author's London teems with vice and corruption, with barely underground exploitation of the poor, particularly orphaned/out-of-wedlock children, unwed mothers, the feeble, and the elderly. Natural selection would have them winnowed out, but the clerical society is doing a fine job of it at that.
Toss a coin in the right direction, should aid or advice be required.
Naturally, it is the State that must evolve, in order to alleviate societal ills. But then, there are alwys those who yearn for the good old days.
Such as they were.
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