Welcome to Murder by the Book's blog about what we've read recently. You can find our website at www.mbtb.com.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Doctor Death by Lene Kaaberbøl

Atria Books, 304 pages, $26, translated by Elisabeth Dyssegaard

Despite being set in 1894, “Doctor Death” is in many ways a very modern mystery. Maddie Karno, the twenty-year-old daughter of the coroner of a border province in France, has a lively, scientific mind and passionately wishes to follow in her father’s footsteps. But, alas, she is a female, and women of that time were expected to be wives and mothers.

When an unfortunate accident befalls Doctor Karno and temporarily puts him out of commission, his daughter, to her delight, must play a more active investigative role in determining what or who killed several people.

The first vicim is a young girl who has run away from her boarding school. There are mysterious “mites” found in her nose, but it is uncertain that they had anything to do with the girl’s death. The priest who prayed over her is the second victim. He, too, has mites in his nose. But his death was clearly at the hands of the human being who struck him dead.

It is a puzzle that Maddie and her father try to solve. With the addition of a professor of parasitology to their team, they use the most modern of methods to determine if there is a potential epidemic. Danish author Lene Kaaberbøl has a compelling modern-day series that she co-authors with Agnete Friis. Their heroine is a nurse, and Kaaberbøl seems at home with putting medical science to use here as well.

But don’t let the presence of a plucky young girl mislead you into thinking that this is some kind of Nancy Drew-ish mystery. Kaaberbøl has crafted a dark tale, and that tale begins to twist down into daunting psychological depths about halfway through. No one is "normal," it seems. (Not even the maids.)

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