Friday, May 9, 2014

Murder on the Home Front: A True Story of Morgues, Murderers, and Mysteries during the London Blitz by Molly Lefebure

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: April 21, 2014

It is 1941. While the "war of chaos" rages in the skies above London, an unending fight against violence, murder and the criminal underworld continues on the streets below. One ordinary day, in an ordinary courtroom, forensic pathologist Dr. Keith Simpson asks a keen young journalist to be his secretary. Although the "horrors of secretarial work" don't appeal to Molly Lefebure, she's intrigued to know exactly what goes on behind a mortuary door. Capable and curious, "Miss Molly" quickly becomes indispensible to Dr. Simpson as he meticulously pursues the truth. Accompanying him from somber morgues to London's most gruesome crime scenes, Molly observes and assists as he uncovers the dark secrets that all murder victims keep. With a sharp sense of humor and a rebellious spirit, Molly tells her own remarkable true story here with warmth and wit, painting a vivid portrait of wartime London.

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English forensic pathologist
Dr. Keith Simpson
For the record, I came to Murder on the Home Front with no preconceived expectation or bias. I've not read Dr. Keith Simpson's Forty Years of Murder and I'd no idea Molly Lefebure's work was being adapted for television prior to picking up her work. My interest was purely self-indulgent, sparked by a genuine attraction to anything set against WWII. 

Lefebure's descriptions of war era London and the propaganda campaign that sought to reduce the appearance of crime during the conflict were especially interesting to me. One glimpses a much overlooked aspect of civilian life within these pages, as well as the struggles faced by those trying to carry on in the shadow of the Blitz. Lefebure's witty commentary regarding her profession and its impact on her social life was also highly amusing. 

Unfortunately, I felt these strengths weakened by a passive and prosaic presentation. The lack of drama in Lefebure's methodic chronicle of her caseload, paired with her lifeless caricatures of both herself and Dr. Simpson, left me bored and indifferent to their experiences.

Ultimately, Murder on the Home Front proves an interesting enough piece for someone intrigued by forensic pathology or the landscape of London during the conflict, but it's not something I feel holds wide appeal outside that demographic. 

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West and I often joke about this adventure now when we talk over old times; those years when I worked with Keith Simpson in London’s public mortuaries on a nonstop round of postmortems, investigating murders, suicides, manslaughters, infanticides, accidents, criminal abortions, and those multitudinous cases that West calls “straight ’uns.”
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