If you love both true crime and historical fiction, then The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner is the book for you! Half of this dual timeline story takes place in 1791 England where an apothecary (that can be found only be those who know where to find it) dispenses poisons to help women enact revenge against the men who have wronged them. Nella, who runs the apothecary, insists that her poisons can never be used against another woman and that each interaction at her shop must be recorded in her registry. Nella’s life changes when she encounters the young servant, Eliza, who assists her employer in contracting Nella’s services. Will Nella’s secret operation be uncovered? What will happen to all the women who are named in her registry?
The other storyline takes place in modern times and follows Caroline, who is reeling from her husband’s recent betrayal. Caroline flees to England on what was supposed to be an anniversary trip to decide what her future will be. While mudlarking on a whim, she stumbles upon an old blue vial that washed up onto the shore of the Thames. Caroline’s interest in history leads her to investigate the origins of the mysterious vial. Is the vial connected to a string of mysterious murders from long ago? Is there a lost apothecary somewhere among the alleys of London waiting to be uncovered? Will Caroline follow her dreams or reconcile with her husband?
The story jumps between the perspectives of Nella, Eliza, and Caroline. The many twists and turns of the story will keep readers guessing. At 320 pages, this book is a quick, fast-paced read. I personally enjoyed Nella and Eliza’s story more than Caroline’s, so I would recommend this book to readers of suspenseful historical fiction. While this book isn’t based on a specific true story, the unsolved poisonings element of it should appeal to true crime readers as well.