Devoured (Hatton & Roumonde Mystery 1)

Devoured - D.E. Meredith Devoured is set just a few years before Darwin published The Origin of Species, when England was in the grip of a mania for collecting specimens of fossils and forms of life from all over its far-flung empire. The unconventional Lady Bessingham, a wealthy, attractive widow who is a patron of the new scientific ideas about evolution, is murdered in her bedroom and a packet of letters sent to her by a friend on a collecting expedition overseas has disappeared. Adolphus Hatton, a doctor and practitioner of the new science of forensics, along with his diener (morgue assistant) Albert Roumande are called in to consult on this high-profile crime. Soon other bizarre murders follow, and Hatton, Roumande and Inspector Adams of Scotland Yard must follow a dark and convoluted trail to discover the connection, and the killer.

Devoured contains several different plot threads that all eventually converge, but it may be too meandering for some tastes. It conveys the ferment of the times - the excitement as well as the danger (as perceived by established institutions such as government and religion) of the new ideas - very well. Hatton and Roumande work well together, and Roumande is much more than a "Watson" - he has strengths and knowledge that complement Hatton's, and while Hatton is the focus of the narration, they are a true team. Excerpts from the missing letters, interspersed with the search for the killer, provide a nice contrast between the South Seas and Victorian London, as well as convincing the reader that the dark secret for which someone is willing to kill is more than a scientific insight.