Title: The Lost Apothecary
Author: Sarah Penner
Publisher: Park Row
Release Date: March 2, 2021
A female apothecary secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them—setting three lives across centuries on a dangerous collision course
Rule #1: The poison must never be used to harm another woman.
Rule #2: The names of the murderer and her victim must be recorded in the apothecary’s register.
One cold February evening in 1791, at the back of a dark London alley in a hidden apothecary shop, Nella awaits her newest customer. Once a respected healer, Nella now uses her knowledge for a darker purpose—selling well-disguised poisons to desperate women who would kill to be free of the men in their lives. But when her new patron turns out to be a precocious twelve-year-old named Eliza Fanning, an unexpected friendship sets in motion a string of events that jeopardizes Nella’s world and threatens to expose the many women whose names are written in her register.
In present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, reeling from the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. When she finds an old apothecary vial near the river Thames, she can’t resist investigating, only to realize she’s found a link to the unsolved “apothecary murders” that haunted London over two centuries ago. As she deepens her search, Caroline’s life collides with Nella’s and Eliza’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.
Two timelines. Two different centuries. Women impacted by deceit.
In 1791, we meet Nella. She is a woman in her forties. She owns an apothecary just like her mother did before her. The difference is that while her mother used it for healing purposes, Nella after a terrible event in her life has decided to use it for murder. Nella supplies poisons to women who want to eliminate a man in their lives. It can be a brother, a father, a husband. Nella's only rules are not to harm women and to keep a log with the names of the women who requested her help.
Eliza Fanning is a twelve-year-old who has been sent to work as an employee for her mistress, Mrs. Amwell. Just like so many other women, Mrs. Amwell is in need on Nella's help and this serves as a conduit for Eliza to meet Nella. Eliza is immediately taken with Nella and her shop. She wants to learn more about the poison and wants to help her around the store.
In the present, we meet Caroline Parcewell who is in London celebrating her ten-year marriage anniversary alone. Just before her planned trip with her husband, she learns about his infidelity. She needs time to process what she has learned and to take some decisions about where she wants her life to go.
A finding during a mudlarking event will make Caroline go digging with the help of Gaynor, a librarian at the British Library, about the apothecary and the murders which occurred in the 18th century.
An original debut by Sarah Penner. It was a slow burn that had good characterization and ambiance.
I had some issues with the part of the story that involved Caroline. At some point, she is in trouble but the resolution felt rushed and simplified.
A complimentary copy was provided by HARLEQUIN/ Park Row via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.