Thomas Silkstone is a young colonial physician who has moved to London and taken up the infant art of anatomy and the even more infant art of the postmortem. One of his students, Francis Crick, sends his cousin, Lady Lydia Farrell, to him after her brother, Lord Edward Crick, dies under mysterious circumstances, with her husband, Captain Farrell, the most obvious suspect. Against his better judgment, and against the advice of his mentor, Dr. Silkstone travels to Oxford to examine Lord Crick's body, when he has been dead long enough for considerable decay to have taken place.
Harris gives us an engaging picture of Silkstone, a patriotic American colonial who has found London the place to pursue his career and his studies, even as the tensions rise between the colonies and the mother country. She also builds up, clearly and with a light hand, the degree of discomfort that postmortems entail, both culturally, and in purely practical terms, as there is no refrigeration, and Silkstone and the small number of other anatomists are breaking new ground in studying the dead and learning to identify non-obvious causes of death.
The mystery itself is intricate and compelling, as Lord Crick was not loved by anyone but his sister, and there were more motives than opportunities to kill him. Lady Lydia's husband Captain Farrell had a wonderful motive, in the inheritance his wife would receive and he would control, but he is a man far more likely to kill in an immediate rage rather than with cold calculation. Crick's exploitation and abuse of the servants also created motives, but few apparent opportunities. When Captain Farrell is arrested and charged with killing Crick with rat poison made on the estate, Silkstone has to scramble to prove his near-certainty that the cause was a different poison and a different killer. An attack on Silkstone in which he isn't robbed, and the disappearance of a servant with extensive knowledge of herbs, sends the case spinning even further out of control
I borrowed this book from the library.