The fifth in the Dr Dodi McCleland series - Agatha Christie meets Phryne Fisher
A DONATION OF MURDER is book number five in this excellent historical series from WA based author Felicity Young. Built around the central characters of Forensic surgeon Dody McCleland and her love interest Chief Inspector Matthew Pike, there are some important historical aspects to these two, their working lives and their relationship. For a start that relationship would be frowned upon because of their work together so it's secret, but it's also most unusual that McCleland is a qualified doctor at that point in history. That's why she is working in Forensics, and doing some private work as a doctor in a specialist women's clinic which she runs. McCleland's sister is an active participant in the Suffragette movement and frequently in trouble, their house is often filled with leaders of that movement, and their parents are Bohemians, unusual enough in their own right. Pike, on the other hand, is ex-Military, now Police, a widower with a young daughter who is, in this book, seriously contemplating his career future in large part because he's sick of the secrecy and really wants to marry McCleland.
Obviously there is a lot of historical fact and information built into the books, and, in particular, there's a serious message here about past attitudes towards women and the struggle for equality, done as part of the general narrative and not in a heavy-handed manner. That actually serves to make the whole situation more starkly unfair, and an excellent reminder of what a struggle equal rights has always been. The romantic aspects in A DONATION OF MURDER are slightly stronger than in the past books as well, it's the reason for so many of the decisions being made by Pike. There's also a very nice switch in the nature of personal jeopardy - he-jep instead of she-jep for a change!
A large part of the strength of this series is the characters - whilst McCleland, Pike, his daughter and Dody's sister are present in all the books, and each nicely drawn out in the process - Pike's daughter, in particular, seems to be stepping out of the shadows more recently. There are also reoccurring characters or types of characters - such as the suffragettes, the women involved with the medical clinic, etc who flesh out the difficulties of life at that time - not just for women although there is a tendency to focus on them. The plots are also particularly clever as they always cast some light into the particularly dark aspects of society at this time. In A DONATION OF MURDER the jewel thieves is one side of the story, but the nature of organised crime at the time, and the precarious position of a powerful female gang leader are other aspects that are particularly fascinating. All of these multi-layered, multi-threaded views make for great reading in a series that is tense and action packed, with really strong female characters, and a lesson in history built in.