cover image The Lost Apothecary

The Lost Apothecary

Sarah Penner. Park Row, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-7783-1101-0

In Penner’s faltering debut, a contemporary American woman uncovers a clue to a series of unsolved murders in 18th-century London. After Caroline Parcewell learns her husband, James, is having an affair, she flies alone from Ohio to London on what was meant to be their anniversary trip. There, she finds a glass vial in the Thames. Her research on the bear etched on the bottle turns up newspaper articles about the suicide of a woman known as the London “Apothecary Killer” in 1791, and leads her to the site of the woman’s shop. Penner switches from Caroline’s sleuthing to the story of the apothecary, Nella Clavinger, who gave poison to women to use on men who wronged them in various ways. Back in the present, Caroline contends with James showing up and getting accidentally poisoned after trying to win her back. Penner’s story starts strong but peters out as the engaging premise gets muddled in convenient plot turns, though the author does a good job of making two disparate stories into eventual foils for one another. This has a few things going for it, but in the end it fails to cast a spell. Agent: Stefanie Lieberman, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Mar.)