Tuesday, April 12, 2016

"A Death Along the River Fleet"

Susanna Calkins, an historian and educator, is the author of four historical mysteries set in seventeenth-century London. Her books have been shortlisted for several awards, including the Bruce Alexander Historical mystery award.

Calkins applied the Page 69 Test to A Death Along the River Fleet, and reported the following:
A Death Along the River Fleet opens with Lucy Campion, 17th century printer’s apprentice, encountering a strange woman at the deserted Holborn Bridge, in the ruins of the Great Fire of London. Seemingly out of her senses, the woman speaks of being pursued by the Devil. Barefoot, and clad only in a simple shift, the woman is covered in blood that is not her own. Even more worrisome, the woman has no memory of who she is or what terrible event might have happened to her.

Unwilling to leave the woman among people who might stone her for her strange words and odd spells, Lucy brings her to the house of Dr. Larimer, a physician she has helped in the past. She hopes that he will bring solace to the mysterious woman.

Immediately, there are questions about the woman’s identity. She speaks with the air of noblewoman, but no one is out looking for her. Around her neck, is an amulet full of rosemary. On her body are odd scars, including those made by frequent bloodletting.

In the excerpt on page 69, the physician has spoken of bringing the woman back to where Lucy found her, in the hopes of stirring a memory and helping the woman regain her lost identity.

From page 69:
“If I were not seeing patients all day tomorrow, I would accompany you myself,” Dr. Larimer said. “Lucy, if you do take her over to Holborn Bridge, it is imperative that you ensure that she takes her tincture first and remains well-rested for the walk. You must refrain from agitating her; we have seen how her spells are brought on when she is distressed.” He paused. “There is something about this young woman that concerns me greatly, and the sooner we can sort it out, the sooner we may return to the more trifling matters that fill our days.”
This excerpt very much conveys several key themes of the novel. First and foremost, it conveys the practical search for this woman’s identity. It also gets at, in part, the tensions among the different approaches to resolving medical issues: the scholarly opinions of the day are very much in opposition to the prevailing popular wisdom on how to heal the afflicted. It also says something of the burden that even physicians felt for caring for patients with longer-lasting maladies.

What the excerpt does not show is how Lucy will come to discover the woman’s identity, and determine what the woman had to do with the death along the River Fleet….
Learn more about the book and author at Susanna Calkins's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: A Murder at Rosamund's Gate.

The Page 69 Test: The Masque of a Murderer.

--Marshal Zeringue