It is 1889, an exciting time in the wellspring of modern medicine as it begins to team up with criminal forensics, a natural pairing. “To make sense of nature’s felonies against the human body, you see, physicians are compelled to study not only the living, but also those who have succumbed.”
A group of physicians have gathered in The Dead House, a Philadelphia morgue, to learn from the corpses what brought them there. Dr. William Osler, often called the father of modern medicine, has taken this group under his tutelage, an incomparable honor for them. One of the more experienced of this group, Dr. Ephraim Carroll, is proud and excited to have such a rare opportunity. It paves the way for a very promising medical career ahead of him.
One evening, while checking out the bodies that have come in for them, Dr. Osler uncovers that of a beautiful young woman. Ephraim notices a strange reaction from more than one of the people in the room. But since they are very busy, he has soon forgotten about it. Later, something strikes a familiar note and he recalls the horrified looks on their faces. Possessing an unnaturally curious mind, he embarks on a quest to find out why.
Unfortunately, Ephraim is naïve, easily swayed by appearances. He has trouble believing that there may be an innocent answer to what looks highly suspicious, seeing conspiracies where none may lie. His unwavering faith in his beliefs takes him into dangerous situations and plunges him into trouble with those who should not be betrayed.
Not long after that night at the morgue, one of Dr. Carroll’s colleagues is found dead, and the signs point to cholera. Ephraim’s nature and intuition make him refuse the easy explanation. Was it really cholera that killed his friend, or something more sinister? A man whose life has been spent solving problems, Ephraim cannot rest until he knows for sure. It is possible that there is more behind his obsession than a need to know the truth about the circumstances surrounding the death of one he knew for only a short time.
“…I understood myself. I was not seeking truth because of [her], nor to protect my career, so inexorably tied to the professor’s, nor to attain justice for [the victim], nor even because my conscience told me that it was the moral and Christian thing to do. I was seeking truth so that I might at last live in peace.”
While Ephraim chases leads through the streets of 19th-century Philadelphia, he learns a lot about himself. The clues take him to some pretty seedy places and point to very disturbing activities. The victim was not as pure of character as Ephraim had first thought. In fact, even though his personal life had been murky before his death, now it becomes positively black.
Professionally, Dr. Carroll is thrilled at the prospect of working with Dr. Osler. At least for a time. But a very unwelcome doubt about his mentor starts trickling into his thoughts. When Dr. Osler becomes defensive over the smallest slight of renowned surgeon William Halsted, who the rumors say had a struggle with drug addiction, Ephraim’s doubts blossom into full-blown worry and his brilliant future starts to blur for him. Is he in danger of jeopardizing that future in his quest for the truth about a beautiful woman’s death and that of a shady doctor?
But wait, he reasons, Dr. Osler had no cause to be involved with either of the recent deaths. His record is spotless. And there is no shortage of others with a motive to kill. Ephraim just needs to figure out which one did it.
Lawrence Goldstone gives us an intriguing thriller, taking us back to a time when our country was still young, with growing pains and different challenges than we face today. Escape to that simpler yet sinister era, when it could be tough to tell the good guys from the bad. It will be a journey well worth it. Part romance, part mystery and part history, THE ANATOMY OF DECEPTION has something to satisfy everyone.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on April 26, 2011