Saturday, June 22, 2013

Devoured: Review

D. E. Meredith's Devoured struck me as an incredibly interesting historical mystery when I started seeing reviews of it strewn about the blogosphere.  I felt like everybody but me was reading this novel which features an early Victorian-era forensic detective and his assistant.  That being the case, I ordered it up from the library to add to my "Everybody But Me" Book Bingo reading list.

The mystery begins with the death of Lady Katherine Bessingham--a bohemian and a free-thinker, who collects specimens and fossils and who subscribes to the rather dangerous new theories of evolution.  Inspector Adams, the well-known hotshot detective from Scotland Yard, calls in Adolphus Hatton and his morgue assistant Albert Roumande--two early forensic practitioners--to examine the crime scene and perform the autopsy.  Their investigations will take them from the sewing room work house where fine lady's garments are created by the extreme poor to the well-appointed rooms of the wealthy; from the shop of an out-of-the-way bookseller to the British Museum.

The story alternates between a narrative of current events in London and letters written while one of the main characters was on a specimen-collecting journey in Borneo.  It becomes clear that the events which took place in Malaysia are firmly tied to the spate of murders that have thinned the ranks of Britain's scientific community.  But are the radical views held by these botanists and specimen-collectors really the catalyst? Or is there a more basic motive driving this killer who seems able to stay one step ahead of the police and the forensic investigators?

This one is a bit of a mixed bag for me.  It is quite obviously a well-researched novel.  Lots of excellent detail about the period--particularly the conditions for the working poor.  The letters detailing Ben Broderig's trip are quite interesting (if a bit heavy at times with descriptions of various collectors pouncing on specimens and rattling off the Latin names....).  The premise is an interesting one...but a bit unevenly told.  And I quite liked the motive behind the murders (well...most of the murders...but an explanation of what I mean by that would be a thundering spoiler).  BUT I don't like the protagonists much.  I particularly don't like Inspector Adams....for such a celebrated detective, he's awful slow on the uptake.  It seems evident that he didn't rise in the force based on his skill and the second half of the novel would seem to bear this out.  Hatton and Roumande could have been more interesting if their forensic detective work had been given more scope.  It seemed to me that most of the time they were just brought along to show how non-effectual Adams really is without moving the investigation along nearly as much as they should.  The denouement shows them in their best light--but more as men of action than as men of science.

All in all, a decent debut novel that is solid enough to make me interested in reading the next installment (The Devil's Ribbon).  I hope that Meredith builds on the strengths of her debut and I hope to see Hatton and Roumande used more effectively in their chosen profession.  Three stars.


Ryan said...

I'll probably end up passing on the book, but the cover is wonderfuly creepy.

Bev Hankins said...


I'm going to given her second one a chance. If it isn't any better than this one, then I'll be done.

Kimberlee said...

I think that I am going to have to look into this one and decide for myself. It sounds like something I would enjoy, but you never know until you actually read it.


Bev Hankins said...

Kimberlee: I hope you enjoy it! It was a decent story, really--and I hope she develops the characters better in the second one.

Debra Wilson said...

Sounds interesting, Bev! But it also sounds a bit of an "iffy" read so I'm going to cop out and wait until you read and review the next book :)