Set in Victorian times, the book starts with a tragic death. Clemency Shaw caught in an inexplicable fire whilst sleeping. Turns out to be murder when we discover the curtains soaked with oil. Her husband the local doctor is away delivering a baby so he is saved. Everything the couple owned is burnt to the ground. Shaw moves to his friends house to think of what he is going to do with the rest of his life. Another fire and his closest friend dies in the blaze. Shaw is again away dealing with a patient. The pattern is so suscipious that everyone including the team headed by the Metropolitan Police think that he is the main suspect.
Combining the unlikely combination of a murder along with a social conscience is never easy to pull off. It is done effortlessly in this book. The Victorian background, the mood and morals of the time, the very insular attitude towards women and what their so called "place" was in society was very strictly determined at the time. Woe to the person who stepped out of line, tried to better themselves, married either above or beneath one, or who even tried to improve his lot by education.
It seemed very cruel that there was no support for women not even from those who were supposed to love them and protect them - their own family, husbands, brothers and fathers. It seemed that the men were in a conspiracy to keep the women submissive, uneducated and downtrodden. Even to read the newspapers was forbidden though the papers came into the house, and what was surprising was that women seemed so brainwashed that very few even wanted to be different, to have an opinion or to make any choices without the husband first deciding as to what should be done.
This kind of story makes me very glad that I am living in present times. I very often wonder what I would have done in such circumstances.
A thought provoking book, descriptive of the times and the place in which it was set. A good read.