Review: Beloved Poison {Jem Flockhart #1} by E.S. Thomson


Title: Beloved Poison {Jem Flockhart #1}

Author: E.S. Thomson

Published: March 2016, Hachette

Status: Read April 2016 – courtesy Hachette/Netgalley



My Thoughts:

‘This is a most peculiar place,’ he said. ‘And the people in it are driven by the most extraordinary motives to do the most deplorable things.’

Beloved Poison is an atmospheric historical mystery, the first in a series from debut author, E.S. Thomson.

Standing since 1135, the crowded, dilapidated buildings of St. Saviours Infirmary are slated to be demolished to make way for a railway bridge. St. Saviours is the only home apothecary Jem Flockhart has ever known, but even she is not privy to all its secrets.

While showing William Quartermain, the junior architect tasked with organising the emptying of St. Saviours graveyard, around, Jem and Will discover six tiny paper coffins hidden in the crumbling walls of the chapel. Puzzled by the symbolism of their contents, she is determined to learn their origins, unwittingly unleashing the base instincts of a murderer.

“Oh, yes, I was unique among women. There had been an apothecary named Flockhart at St Saviour’s Infirmary for over one hundred years and I was set to inherit my father’s kingdom amongst the potions. But it took a man to run that apothecary, and so a man I must be.”

Thomson’s portrayal of Jem is nuanced and fascinating. In order to sustain the Flockhart legacy, Jem has no choice but to live as a man, but being forced to keep her secret at all times means she is often terribly lonely. She is disarmed by the friendliness of William, who seems unfazed by the large port wine birthmark that stains her face, and he is equally unruffled when he guesses her secret, though it is her childhood friend, Elizabeth, that she yearns for. Jem’s interest in the coffins is both a product of her natural curiosity, and a distraction from her father’s illness, as well as the uncertainty of the Infirmary’s impending closure.

“In reality they were no more than a collection of poorly-executed boxes, foolish totems that may well have been made and hidden away by a child, their significance at best random, and most likely meaningless. And yet I knew, in my heart, that these were spurious arguments.”

The discovery of the coffins is an eventual catalyst for three murders, Jem’s wrongful incarceration, and a revelation of past atrocities. The mysteries are interesting and involved. There are, among the often arrogant, petty, and morally corrupt staff of St. Savours, several suspects.

Where the novel unfortunately fell down for me was in the uneven pacing, exacerbated by the heavy foreshadowing of events.

“Stiff with old gore, Dr Graves’s coat had a thick, inflexible appearance, and a sinister ruddy-coloured patina like waxed mahogany. Dr Magorian’s was worse, being as dark and lustreless as a black pudding.”

Perhaps the strongest element of the novel is Thomson’s horrifying yet compelling visceral descriptions of the medical practices and beliefs of 1850. The author walks us through the dank and stinking wards of the Infirmary crowded with festering patients, the blood spattered operating rooms with floors strewn with sawdust, and the damp and chilly dissecting room. Thomson’s characters also briefly venture out of St. Saviours into the equally squalid streets of London, and to Newgate Prison.

I enjoyed Beloved Poison, particularly for its Victorian atmosphere and though it has its flaws, as the first in a series, I can see the potential, and I hope to read more.



Available to Purchase via

Hachette AU I Booko I

Book Depository I Indiebound

or your preferred retailer

Other books in the Jem Flockhart series


5 Comments (+add yours?)

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  2. sjhigbee
    May 07, 2019 @ 07:01:27

    A great review! I’ve read The Blood and thoroughly enjoyed it, so the writing does even out – I know what you mean about the barbaric practices! Such a relief not to live in those times and at the mercy of some of those terrible treatments…

    Liked by 1 person


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