Dora Strang has entered a strange world. In fact they insist on calling her Mrs Strange. She is in fact neither strange or a Mrs, but it is all about perception and what other people think. As a daughter of a doctor, who just did not make the grade to be one herself she has still pitched herself forward into the world of work as a secretary.
Nothing perhaps untoward in that. But it is 1929 and girls of her class are not meant to be working in such professions, and certainly not in London on their own. But Dora is doing all of these things.
She is sent by the employment bureau to be a filing clerk in a department at the hospital. A department which was kept rather separate from the rest.
A hospital department that did not cure you as more find out what you died of. The department of Morbid Anatomy. The mortuary if you will. It’s eminent head was Alfred Kemble, assisted somewhat crossly by Mr Hubbard who always felt his nose was being put out of joint and the keen nearly qualified doctor, Alex Vazard. Dora Strang found herself more than just a filing clerk.
For some reason this department had been going through filing clerks and secretaries rather quickly, but no one could tell Dora why. The battle of cross referencing this eminent man’s work as well as typing, for which she was not originally employed for begins to take over her life and she is sucked into the work of this department and the lives of her colleagues.
Dora is learning about life from death. She is learning fast about life as she becomes more in love with it all. Her strength and stubbornness as well as not fainting at the sight of a dead body means she could perhaps survive longer than those before her in this particular department.
But there was something she did not bank on – passion, attraction and emotion. All of these were not able to be cross referenced in some report and filed away neatly. They had to be dealt with and dealt with swiftly. For me was Louise Levene’s true undercurrent of the book. The descriptions of death, the fascination of how it can help convict a killer or an innocent person are covered in such detail that you would think this was what the book was solely about. But the people recording, investigating and trying to protect the innocent are more important and it is their story which kept me reading.
The author has captured what could be called “gallows humour”, it made me smile in parts when the passages were related to death and all its ghastly descriptions. The characters were in equal measure quirky and normal, with flaws and faults, that made me chuckle when the passages were related to ordinary everyday things – such as listening to conversations on the bus or being caught reading a rather unseemly newspaper. I could see where the book could of gone and where it went was the right way but there were times where it meandered on, simply being filed away in that filing cabinet ready to be cross referenced at the end for the conclusion.
This is not a murder mystery, this is not true historical fiction, not really romance in its truest sense, more of an acceptance. it is a book which I cannot pigeon-hole other than excellent fiction, a gripping read with the right amount of death and humour. If those two things can ever be combined successfully it has been done so here.
This book does not seem to have much coverage on Amazon, it only has 7 reviews, well 8 now but I highly recommend it for. For its ghoulish ghastly quality and because of the humour. I would certainly read more about Dora Strang if it was ever a possibility.
I came across the book ages ago when it was reviewed on Jane’s blog here. She has captured this book so succinctly that I wish I could more often in my reviews. I still think after blogging for so long I am trying to find what works for me. I digress. Thank you Jane for introducing me to this book and many others, long may it continue.