BOOK REVIEW: The Alchemist of Lost Souls by Mary Lawrence

Today sees the release of the fourth book in Mary Lawrence's Tudor mystery series featuring Bianca Goddard.


Spring 1544 Now that she is with child, Bianca is more determined than ever to distance herself from her unstable father. Desperate to win back the favor of King Henry VIII, disgraced alchemist Albern Goddard plans to reveal a powerful new element he's discovered--one with deadly potential. But when the substance is stolen, he implores his daughter to help.

Soon after, a woman's body is found behind the Dim

Dragon Inn, an eerie green vapor rising from her mouth. Bianca has reason to suspect her own mother may be involved in the theft and the murder. When her husband John is conscripted into King Henry's army to subdue Scottish resistance, finding the stone becomes a matter of life and death. Bianca must unravel the interests of alchemists, apothecaries, chandlers, and scoundrels--to find out who among them is willing to kill to possess the element known as lapis mortem, the stone of death . . .

My Thoughts

Bianca Goddard is a herbalist. Her mother, Malva, is a white witch and her father, Albern, is an alchemist who has fallen out of favour with Henry VIII. Albern has discovered an element that he hopes will redeem his reputation. This element turns into stones which spontaneously combust. When they are stolen, Albern demands that Bianca help retrieve them. Matters become complicated when the thief is murdered and the stones disappear once more.

Fearless and clever, Bianca makes an excellent detective. She analyses every clue carefully and isn't afraid to confront the suspects. With her husband away with the King's army, she can only rely on herself. Unfortunately, this leads her into danger. As the investigation progresses, Bianca learns that her mother may be implicated in the crime. This suspicion she keeps from Patch, a constable who is assigned to the case and with whom she has crossed paths before.

This was such a good mystery, well written and compelling. Mary Lawrence successfully conjures up the competitive, secretive and superstitious world of the alchemist and combines this with her knack for description, transporting the reader to the poor and seamy side of Tudor London where we meet some very colourful characters.

The period specific words that crop up in the narrative and in the dialogue add a further touch of reality. Some I understood and for those I didn't, a handy glossary is provided at the end of the story.

The mystery component involving multiple suspects is well done; it wasn't easy to deduce who was guilty. All of them had a valid reason for committing the crime. However, to me the revelation of the guilty party wasn't as much of a surprise as the motive, which made sense in the context of the laws enforced at the time.

Finally, I have to mention the Rat Man, the wraith of the Thames, who sits in the shadows, watches and waits. His presence adds another dimension to the story - a spooky one.

The Alchemist of Lost Souls can be enjoyed as a standalone novel. My only regret is that I hadn't read the previous three books, but that can easily be remedied! Those who have followed the series from the start are sure to find much to like about Bianca's latest adventure; likewise fans of historical mysteries.

Thank you to Mary Lawrence for an ARC of this book.

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