June’s Military Families Magazine Book of the month is “The Lost Apothecary,” a take of murder and mayhem in 18th century London and today.
Hidden among the mazes of back alleys in 1700s London is the apothecary shop of a once-respected healer, Nella. Yet when Nella is unimaginably betrayed, she vows to help other women escape the same fate and makes a deadly choice: to supply any woman who asks with poisons, so long as men are the only victims.
In modern-day London, Caroline Parcewell is spending her 10th anniversary trip tending her broken heart after discovering her husband has been keeping more secrets than she’d ever imagined. As she begins to piece together a new future, she finds herself on a mudlarking trip on the banks of the river Thames — dredging up broken bits of the past from the muck and murk. She finds an old apothecary vial with an image of a bear upon its side, and the finding sets off a search for the truth about a London serial killer that crisscrosses centuries.
Marketed as a feminist tale, the story follows Caroline, Nella, and two of Nella’s customers as they attempt to rid themselves of the people who’ve betrayed them, and some find they are willing to resort to murder to do it. While their motivations are vastly different, the women — across time — are united in their belief that they just may be better off without the men in their lives, although the methods they take to get there vary greatly.
“The Lost Apothecary” is author Sarah Penner’s debut novel, and became an instant New York Times bestseller upon its March arrival, with translations planned for thirty languages around the world. Penner exhaustively researched several aspects of the novel, from several mudlarking afternoons in the summer 2019 to hours in the British Library studying old pharmaceutical manuscripts and diaries of druggists to determine the poisons with which Nella might reasonably have supplied her customers.
Readers will need to suspend disbelief about several aspects of the story, including Caroline’s breakthrough detective work, but the tale provides more than enough twists to keep you turning the page to discover what happens next.
Woven throughout are strong themes of female empowerment, particularly in an era where women were not granted many freedoms. Penner’s strongly drawn women take what freedoms they can, sometimes by force, and when the consequences come, they’re prepared to face them together.
“The Lost Apothecary” is on sale now.
Kate Lewis reviews books monthly for Military Families Magazine. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and more. Find her online @katehasthoughts.Read comments