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The Anatomy of Deception    by Lawrence Goldstone order for
Anatomy of Deception
by Lawrence Goldstone
Order:  USA  Can
Doubleday, 2008 (2008)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Lawrence Goldstone - who has previously written histories of medicine and anatomy with his wife Nancy - now brings us The Anatomy of Deception, a historical mystery set in 1889 Philadelphia. Narrated by the (fictional) Dr. Ephraim Carroll, the novel also features two famous physicians - Canadian William Osler, hailed as the Father of Modern Medicine, and William Stewart Halsted, the surgeon who performed the first emergency blood transfusion - as well as controversial artist Thomas Eakins.

Goldstone sets the scene by showing us a frightened young woman, wearing her maid's clothing, and riding a hansom through slum streets where 'An odor of filth and decrepitude befouled the air.' Who is she, why is she disguised, and what will be her fate? These questions hover in the back of the reader's mind, as the story continues from Carroll's point of view - the young physician muses about the 'connection of analytic detection to medicine' and about the investigation upon which he is about to embark.

Dr. Ephraim Carroll has left a practice in Chicago to work with Dr. William Osler, head of Clinical Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. Osler had transformed the Blockley Dead House 'into perhaps the most exciting and advanced laboratory for the science of morbid anatomy in the entire world.' Now, Carroll and his fellows (including one woman, Mary Simpson) assist the enthusiastic Professor perform autopsies on unwanted cadavers. The young doctors are puzzled when Osler abruptly terminates the session after uncovering the corpse of a young woman - did he recognize her?

The next surprise for Carroll is an invitation from his witty, sophisticated colleague Turk to join him for an evening's entertainment - Turk had previously ignored Carroll's friendly overtures and even now calls him an 'incurable prig'. Ephraim witnesses an argument between Turk and an older man, who seems to be accompanied by Dr. Osler. Then Osler makes Ephraim an exciting career offer and takes him along to a high society dinner, where the young doctor is enchanted by the lovely and very wealthy Abigail Benedict. She enlists his help to trace her friend Rebecca, who has disappeared and whose father is a violent and powerful man.

Murders follow, a drug connection is uncovered, and the police are involved. Though Carroll investigates, helped by Mary Simpson, little good seems to come of it. He loses the person who might have been the love of his life, is faced with a difficult decision - and makes an ethical choice to his own disadvantage. I enjoyed the story's detailed historical - and medical - context at least as much as the mystery, including an intriguing Author's Note at the end that describes its historical basis. If you enjoy medical history and forensic mysteries, you'll be absorbed by The Anatomy of Deception.

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