Fifth Earl Lord Dunsford is brutally murdered during a leisurely weekend gathering at his country home. Although it turns out that almost all his aristocratic guests had motives to kill him, it is a young maid, Elsie, who is charged with the crime. She had publicly threatened the Earls life and later was found burying a bloody knife. Dr. Alexandra Gladstone is the only voice of opposition to this conclusion. She sees at once that the true cause of death was strangulation, not the knife wound that occurred after his death, and is determined to save Elsie from hanging by uncovering the real murderer.
Alexandra Gladstone is a country surgeon, trained by her now deceased respected physician father. A recurring theme in the story is the approbation of her peers for her choice of a profession deemed suitable only for men. Nonetheless, Alexander has earned the respect of the working class folks she serves which often gives her access to helpful bits of village gossip.
The book is slight on historical information beyond fascinating details of Victorian medicine and medical practices, and the lamentable situation of the poor who often have to ignore the doctors advice in order to get on with their lives. Antagonism between the classes is important to the plot as is the portrayal of the upper class who hide their deceptions and misdeeds behind their privileged position. Further stories in the series explore the place of women in Victorian society and how the family and mental illness was perceived under English law in this period.
Readers will like and admire Alexander Gladstone who deeply feels for her patients and whose restrained character seems true to how someone of her position would present herself. We also meet her maid Nancy, large dog Zack, and barrister friend and alley Nicholas Forsythe.This is the first of a series of three Dr. Gladstone stories. No historical background provided.