Review - THE SCENT OF MURDER, Felicity Young

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

Somebody, years ago, in "one of those long and philosophical nights around the dinner table" made a comment about history always being written by the victor, and it's stayed with me ever since (even though it's not an original proposition). I'm always reminded of it when a new Dody McCleland book arrives. Although they are fictional books, they speak with a resonance and an authority which draws a vivid picture of the time of the suffragettes, using the point of view of the women, demonstrating the utter stupidity and nastiness of the restrictions placed on women, without turning absolutely all the men into demons. In fact there are demons and good from both sexes.

Whilst there's a lot about THE SCENT OF MURDER that feels instructive, in the way that it draws a picture of life in that period, all of that is woven cleverly into a very solid crime fiction plot. Even with a touch of the cold case about this one.

Newcomers to the series (and you may need to explain why you've not read the two earlier books!) will get enough of the background to Dr McCleland to be able to fill in the blanks, although knowing why she's an autopsy surgeon in particular really fleshes out the pettiness of the restrictions on women. You'll know from this book that Chief Inspector Matthew Pike is a love interest, as well as a colleague. The earlier books will fill in the history to their relationship, and their own personal situations. There's actually a touching and quite clever statement going on with these two - a respectful and equal professional partnership, alongside a loving and supportive, albeit secret, personal partnership. Goes to show that feminism doesn't have to automatically put the feminine and the masculine at odds.

Before you start to think that THE SCENT OF MURDER is some sort of chest thumping treatise ... it most definitely is not. All of this series is written with a careful touch, much of the subtext is exactly that - subtext - and it would not be at all surprising that readers don't notice it / don't care. These are great stories, featuring really good characters, with a particularly strong feeling of both time and place. Needless to say, THE SCENT OF MURDER is an outstanding example of what's really really good about Australian crime writing.

Year of Publication

'If a black dog appears along the old corpse way, the route a funeral procession takes to the churchyard, it is thought to be escorting the dead soul to the afterlife. A black dog sighting without a funeral procession, however, is supposed to foreshadow death.'

For Doctor Dody McCleland, the unearthing of an ancient skeleton in a dry riverbed is a welcome break from the monotony of chaperoning her younger sister at a country house near the isolated hamlet of Piltdown. But when she begins her analysis of the bones, Britain's first female autopsy surgeon discovers they are much more recent - and they are the result of murder.

With Chief Inspector Matthew Pike's help Dody begins to investigate. Soon she finds herself pitted against ugly traditionalism, exploitation, spectral dogs, a ghostly hunt and a series of events that not only threaten her belief in scientific rationalism, but threaten her life itself.

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