Title: The Lost Apothecary
Author: Sarah Penner
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Park Row
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
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.
In 1791, Nella is a secret apothecary who dispenses poisons to her female customers. She had two rules: the poison can never be used against a women and she must record all transactions in her record book. One day, her customer is a young girl named Eliza. She visits the apothecary to get a poison for her mistress to administer to her husband who has suddenly taken an interest in Eliza. This meeting creates an unlikely friendship and threatens to destroy Nella’s entire life’s work. In present day London, Caroline is on her ten year anniversary vacation by herself. She discovered her husband’s affair right before leaving, so she decided to take the vacation alone to have time to think. Caroline goes searching on the banks of the Thames for hidden treasures, and finds a mysterious vial. She takes it upon herself to research the history of the vial, and discovers the two hundred year old mystery of the apothecary murders.
This was such an amazing debut! It was fast paced and I couldn’t put it down. The narrative alternated between Eliza and Nella in 1791 and Caroline in the present. The two stories slowly unraveled together. All of the narratives had exciting cliffhangers that made it almost impossible to stop reading. I usually have a favourite narrative in a story with dual storylines but each of these women’s stories were so exciting, I can’t choose a favourite.
London was an important setting in the story. The two time periods had very different versions of London but they were both connected to the apothecary. Caroline had to use historical maps to figure out where the apothecary would have been in today’s London. Even though the city has been bustling since the time of Nella’s apothecary shop, the secret behind the shop had reminded hidden within London.
This was such a great story! I highly recommend it!
Thank you HarperCollins for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
What to read next:
Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown
The Gown by Jennifer Robson
About the author:
Sarah Penner is the debut author of The Lost Apothecary, to be translated in eleven languages worldwide. She works full-time in finance and is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She and her husband live in St. Petersburg, Florida, with their miniature dachshund, Zoe. To learn more, visit slpenner.com.
Have you read The Lost Apothecary? What did you think of it?