The Lost Apothecary

 The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

I thought the premise was interesting and could have made for a good story, but there were too many things that didn't add up.

The story follows an eighteenth century apothecary, Nella, who once ran a legitimate business but now dispenses poisons to women wanting to be rid of their troublesome men. Once betrayed by her own husband, her revenge is "helping" other women in similar circumstances. She feels no compunction about killing, having only one hard and fast rule: the poison is never to be used to harm another woman. It feels like we're meant to admire the women-supporting-women theme, but all the murdering makes that a hard sell.

Twelve year old Eliza comes to Nella's door one day shopping for poison as blithely as if she were buying bread. She explains that at the request of her Mistress she is going to poison her Master and hopefully kill him. Other than being ok with murdering her employer she seems like a reasonably normal child, not the deeply disturbed one she'd have to be to accept her assignment so nonchalantly. It all seems very unlikely. 

Caroline is the present day narrator, in England alone on a trip meant be an anniversary celebration until her husband admitted to cheating on her. After finding one of Nella's old vials in the river and doing 'research' that really only amounted to a few words in Google, she locates the apothecary's shop in a back alley of London, where it has gone unnoticed by every other person who passed it for two hundred and thirty years. Again, unlikely. 

There were other things that didn't make sense. In one scene where Nella and Eliza are frantic to get away before they are caught and as the reader you're urging them to hurry, the action stops as Nella takes time to think about all the circumstances that brought her to this moment and what it all means. The reader is left hanging until she returns to the present and the hurrying starts again. And her pursuers - did they just stop and wait? There's also a Cambridge University situation that seemed improbable. There's little to convince readers that Caroline could be among the small percentage of applicants who get accepted into that elite institution. 

I know this book has gotten a lot of positive reviews, but it didn't work for me - too many loopholes. Disappointing.    


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