cover image Murder by Degrees

Murder by Degrees

Ritu Mukerji. Simon & Schuster, $27.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-66801-506-3

A female physician becomes an amateur sleuth in internist Mukerji’s impressive debut. In 1875 Philadelphia, Dr. Lydia Weston teaches at the Woman’s Medical College and sees patients at a low-cost clinic she helped found to serve the city’s working class. One of her patients is Anna Ward, a chambermaid in the home of wealthy couple Edward and Beatrice Curtis. During an appointment with Lydia, Anna is visibly troubled by something she won’t explain; she then misses her next appointment and seems to vanish entirely. Soon after the police are notified of Anna’s disappearance, they find a young woman’s body in the Schuylkill River. Though the corpse is too bloated to identify, Anna’s journal is found nearby. Lydia helps her mentor, police consultant Dr. Harlan Stanley, perform the autopsy, which identifies blunt force trauma as the cause of death. Given her intimate knowledge of Anna’s life, the detectives assigned to the case let Lydia assist in the investigation. She learns that Anna was involved in “a love affair gone awry,” and that both the Curtises and their servants had reasons to harm her. Things take a more complicated turn, however, when Lydia realizes that the body she and her cohorts have recovered may not be Anna’s after all. Mukerji’s taut plotting and vivid depiction of the era’s medical practices and social customs will leave readers eager for a second installment. Agent: Nicki Richesin, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Literary. (Oct.)