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Disturbing the Dead by Kelley Armstrong - Review

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Kelley Armstrong


Disturbing the Dead Cover

Growing up, I enjoyed time travel stories, but the books I read featured variations on H.G. Wells’s classic, The Time Machine. These stories featured a scientific gizmo that allowed a character to enter a different era. Sometimes, in a slight variation, the characters would go through a warp-like portal to the same effect. But I wasn’t a fan of stories in which characters found themselves inside other people’s bodies in the past. That is, until I read Kelley Armstrong’s charming novel, Disturbing the Dead. This book made me believe not in time travel but in the viability of the body swap story as an enjoyable subgenre.

Disturbing the Dead is the third novel featuring modern-day police detective Mallory Atkinson. While visiting Edinburgh, Scotland, she was transported 150 years in the past, inside the body of a housemaid, Catriona Mitchell. Fortunately, Catriona’s employer, Duncan Gray, was sophisticated enough to accept her story. Even 

more fortunately, Duncan was somewhat of an amateur detective with whom Mallory, in her new body, worked to solve cases.

In Disturbing the Dead, Duncan and Mallory attend a party at the home of Sir Alastair Christie. Despite my first hunch, Christie is not an ancestor of Agatha Christie’s first husband. Like Agatha’s second husband, he is an archaeologist who has just returned from Egypt with many artifacts, including a mummy. The party’s highlight is the unwrapping of the mummy to see what lies beneath the bandages. But when Duncan (who has a medical degree) and Mallory unwrap the mummy, instead of a long-dead Egyptian, they find a recently dead Christie.

Despite having one of the best corpse-discovery scenes in recent memory, the whodunit aspects of Disturbing the Dead are routine. There are only a few suspects, and the last chapters seem cribbed from an episode of Moonlighting, with Duncan and Mallory trying to trap the killer. But the mystery surrounding the mystery is much better. Christie’s murder isn’t the only crime which occurred that day. Someone absconded with the original mummy’s remains, and Mallory now searches for their whereabouts to see if they reveal a clue to the killer’s identity.

Mallory’s search for the mummy’s remains, perhaps to be used for medicinal purposes, is far more interesting than her search for the killer. Her journey takes her to a late-night occult flea market, appropriately called a goblin market. There, vendors peddle arcane herbs and common fakes to unwary buyers. I’ve read a lot of occult fantasy over the years, but this was my first encounter with a goblin market. I was utterly fascinated by Mallory’s trip and her bizarre companions. 

Many historical novels feature archetypical characters that readers will immediately recognize. Nearly every character in Disturbing the Dead differs vastly from what readers might expect. The best example is Queen Mab, the local expert on preventing—and ending—pregnancies. She serves as Mallory’s “sponsor” on the trip to the goblin market, where Mab obtains some of the wares she uses. Either Queen Mab or the goblin market would be enough for me to recommend Disturbing the Dead. But the book contains at least a dozen similar characters and scenarios.

Mallory serves as the narrator of Disturbing the Dead. Her narration is an additional delight in the book. She provides insight from sources like the novel Catch-22 and the movie Ace Ventura: Pet Detective to befuddled 19th-century listeners. And Mallory wonders about the scientific and cultural differences between life in 1869 and 2019. A major subplot in the book involves the first handful of women admitted to medical school in Scotland. Not surprisingly, they do not receive a warm welcome from their fellow students and faculty. Several of them figure in the storyline. And when Duncan Gray’s exploits are published in local tabloids, Mallory immediately notices the similarities between Gray and a similar consulting detective who would enthrall the reading public a few years later.

Disturbing the Dead is a time travel mystery that readers who rarely like mysteries or time travel stories can enjoy. It’s the third novel in the author’s series about Mallory’s adventures. However, the author does an excellent job filling readers in on the book’s central premise and recurring characters. Those like me who haven’t read the earlier books won’t understand all the references to previous storylines, but that won’t diminish this book’s entertainment factor. Disturbing the Dead may disturb a few readers’ sleep patterns as they keep some enjoyable late hours finishing the book.

NOTE: The publisher graciously provided me with a copy of this book through NetGalley. However, the decision to review the book and the contents of this review are entirely my own.

In this clip, author Kelley Armstrong discusses her novels on About the Authors TV:

Kelley Armstrong is a Canadian writer, specializing in fantasy novels. Her works include 13 novels in her Women series, five in her Cainsville series, six in her Rockton series, three in her Darkest Powers series, three in her Darkness Rising trilogy, and three in the Age of Legends series. She has also published three middle-grade fantasy novels in the Blackwell Pages trilogy, with co-author Melissa Marr. Armstrong is also the author of three crime novels, the Nadia Stafford trilogy. Starting in 2014, a Canadian television series based on her Women of the Otherworld, called Bitten, aired for three seasons on Space and SyFy.

Read Kelley Armstrong books on Amazon:

A Stitch in Time Cover
A Twist of Fate Cover
Sea of Shadows Cover

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