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Monday, July 06, 2009

The Anatomy of Deception

Goldstone, Lawrence. The Anatomy of Deception.

Set in Philadelphia in 1889, this medical mystery is full of suspense, interesting characters, and fascinating historic medical detail.

The novel opens with Dr. William Osler (one of the real characters in the book) leading students and practicing physicians to the Dead House, the morgue that provided anatomical training for University of Pennsylvania Medical School, to observe the dissection of several cadavers.

When the coffin containing the body of an attractive young woman is opened, all present are somewhat distressed. The lesson is concluded with the excuse that there isn't enough time for this last corpse. Young Dr. Ephraim Carroll, who has come to Philadelphia specifically to study with Dr. Osler, finds the abrupt conclusion disconcerting and suspects that the nameless young woman has been recognized by at least two individuals.

Goldstone smoothly incorporates information from the real Dr. Osler's notes on actual autopsies he performed and information from a manuscript Osler wrote but instructed to be kept sealed for fifty years after his death.

An interesting forensic thriller that reveals a bit of the bohemian art world, social mores of the time, interesting medical history, and a glimpse of the conflicts concerning medical advances.

Fiction. Historical mystery. 2008. 340 pages.


  1. I remember hearing about this one when it first came out and it struck me as something I might like to read. Then I completely forgot about it until now.

    I find it fascinating that the author was able to incorporate Dr. Osler's actual notes into the novel. I'll definitely have to add this to my wish list so I don't forget about it again!

  2. LF - The information about the state of medicine in 1886 was really interesting, and the use of Dr. Osler's notes was well done. Also interesting is the aspect of addicted doctors--not such a recent thing at all.

  3. I read this when it first came out and wasn't too thrilled with the mystery aspect of it but did really enjoy the medical historical setting. Very interesting!

  4. I do remember seeing this one and being interested in it but now that you said "bohemian art world" I'm so there :)

  5. Nicola - I often find the mystery less interesting than smoothly incorporated history or other interesting information! You are right about the actual mystery being less involving than the glimpse into the time period.

    Iliana - Thomas Eakins and his wife are the entree into the art world in this novel. Evidently given the prudery of the time, Eakins had difficulty because of his interest. He also made a lot of nude photographs of himself.