The Insanity of Murder – Felicity Young

Two passionate suffragettes plant a bomb on the Necropolis Railway, leading to greater damage than planned, and one of the two is Dody McCleland’s sister. Dody is in a pickle, balancing her quest for justice and cooperation with the police on one side and her loyalty to her sister on the other side. The investigation leads to other murders, stemming back to the Elysium Rest Home for Gentlewomen.

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The historical ride in The Insanity of Murder is intricate, well researched, and immensely entertaining. Beginning with the Necropolis Railway, the suffrage movement, Bedlam asylum, hunger strikes, medical practices, and Edwardian society in general. I could easily continue this list. Felicity Young excels in using historical detail to color the story instead of drowning it.

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That said, the period with it revolutions and evolutions in many fields is a popular backdrop for stories and I cannot help immediately drawing parallels to some of them. This is also emphasized with the centennial for women’s rights in these years – depending on which country you focus on, as evidenced by the upcoming movie Suffragette.

I recently dove into Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, based on the novels by Kerry Greenwood, and there are a number of parallels between Miss Fisher and Dody McCleland including subject matter and the for the time, provocative relationship between Miss Fisher/Dody McCleland and her policeman. In comparison, I find that the relationship between Dody and her Chief Inspector Pike is a little bland, but the tongue-in-cheek chemistry known from Miss Fisher would change the focus of The Insanity of Murder.

Felicity Young’s narrative focusses on Dody’s balancing act between the image of an Edwardian woman and her surgical educational and sharp intellect, which comes to an excellent conclusion on the last page of the novel.

As an example of the changing times is:

“You have no library then, Mr Beamish?” she asked timidly.

He looked at her as if she were mad (she’d better get used to that look, she supposed). “Doctor Fogarty says reading’s the very worst thing a woman of delicate inclinations should be doing – it’s one of the reasons so many women get themselves into trouble these days. (p. 143).

Oh dear! While the period makes for an interesting backdrop for a novel, I am pleased to live on this side of the immense changes.

The Insanity of Murder is published by HarperCollins Publishers Australia. The photos used above are from Felicity Young’s website and the Daily Mail. I found the book through Netgalley, where I found the description tempting, especially the mention of the Necropolis Railway. I first learned on it in Necropolis – London and its dead.

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