Devoured by D. E. Meredith
Genre: murder mystery, Victorian, forensics
Rating: 1.75 out of 5 stars
Summary: London, 1856. Professor Adolphus Hatton is a forensic scientist working a baffling case. A society lady has been brutally murdered in her bedroom, followed by a string of other deaths. At the center of the mystery lies a packet of missing letters, written by Benjamin Broderig while he was abroad in Borneo. As he is a scholar and free-thinker, the letters may contain information that will rock the foundations of current scientific thought. Or there may be something more sinister hidden in the letters. Who took the letters, and for what purpose? Hatton must work quickly, using the new science of forensics to solve the case before even more bodies pile up.
This book should’ve been interesting. The title is so evocative – Devoured. It sounds sinful and slightly wicked. It take place in Victorian London- an era of new science and public prudity. And tophats. Murders, political intrigue, underdog scientists, this book had a lot of promise. Sadly, it did not deliver.
The first thing I noticed was how the narrative jumps around incessantly. I assumed we would get Hatton’s point of view for most of the novel, with some secondary characters woven in to build suspense (like other mysteries). Half the book seems to be written in the POV of random characters. We go from Hatton, to Ashby, a clerk for the shitty Duke Monreith. Then there is Madame Martineau, prostitute/dressmaker to high society ladies/publisher of seditious pamphlets/dastardly foreign lady who also blackmails people. Sometimes the maid Flora will get a few pages. And then there are the letters themselves. They tell the story of Broderig’s time spent abroad as he searches for exotic specimens to study. But bad things happen while he’s in the wild, and those bad things are deeply connected to what is going on in London. Here’s the problem with that – I DON’T CARE WHAT IS HAPPENING IN LONDON.
A good mystery novel starts with a good detective, and this books fails on the most basic level. Hatton is not a well-developed character. Besides being flat, I didn’t even like the few characteristics he was given. And I can pinpoint the exact moment that I really started to dislike him – page 42. “he often gave the dog a sharp kick, but not in full view of the owner.” Few things can alienate me from a text that quickly, but animal abuse is one of them. On an authorial level, why was that detail necessary? You aren’t going to spend time developing well-rounded characters, but you throw in kicking puppies? Where was the editor! Ugh.
Besides that, he didn’t have any interesting qualities. He didn’t smoke or do drugs. He was a bachelor without any attachments. No fiery temper or funny quips. Not saying you need these things to be interesting, but he didn’t have anything. Just really, really dull thoughts. When the narrative actually followed Hatton, I just didn’t care. The idea of forensics being a new field was so intriguing to me. I expected people resisting the new science, or Hatton being more proactive about his field. But this was barely explored in the novel. It focused more on characters running around “advancing” the plot.
As for the other characters, there was no consistency. For example, there is a detective named Inspector Adams who has become a celebrity based on prior cases. But in the case where we see him working, he is awful. He doesn’t see obvious connections; he is racist and more concerned with image than solving the case. How did he become a celebrated detective behaving as he does? The obvious answer – he doesn’t. He blows at his job. The kicked puppy has better deductive reasoning. Another poorly developed character! Ashby the clerk starts off as a lackey for the evil Duke, but switches to an almost sympathetic person by the end of the novel. The problem with that is it’s not done naturally. It’s not character progression – it’s poor writing. The only character that had some life was Hatton’s lab assistant, Albert Roumonde. He actually cares about the victims, and advocates for his profession. Sadly, we don’t see enough of him to make up for the other characters.
The plot – okay, it’s a mystery. There has to be a twist, or something that is difficult to figure out. This twist left me underwhelmed, as it connected two big and seemingly disparate plot points into one rather obvious solution. The missing letters were intriguing at first, and the language Meredith uses to describe the jungle is really pretty and enjoyable. But they weren’t enough to hold this book together. In fact, I was far more interested in Broderig’s adventures than the mystery at hand.
Oh, and mild spoilers. Almost everybody dies. Seriously, Meredith’s way of tying up loose ends is for everyone to MURDER each other. But hey, blank slate for the inevitable second installment. Which I will not be reading.
– The letters were beautifully written
– A few interesting scenes dealing with early forensics
– VERY underdeveloped and unbelievable characters
– The mystery aspect wasn’t that difficult to solve
– Ending is out of control ridiculous
– Puppy abuse
Far from devouring this book, I could barely choke it down.