In Death of an Alchemist, an old man—with a macaw and a cat as his only companions—is on the verge of publishing a recipe for immortality when he suddenly dies in his sleep. Given the year is 1543, fast-acting pestilence of many types abounds. Nevertheless, Bianca Goddard, daughter of an alchemist and maker of medicines, suspects he was murdered. Was it the physician whose daughter is gravely ill, the fellow alchemist, the usurer owed money, or the alchemist’s rogue son-in-law? As people begin dropping like flies, can Goddard, with the help of her old friend Meddybemps, solve the mystery? Can she understand the recipe in time to save her own husband imperiled by the sweat?
This is not a mystery for those seeking strict historical accuracy, as Lawrence states at the end of this book. Indeed, the author created an aspect of the mystery’s solution, making it difficult for the reader to puzzle out the solution before the ending. If, however, the reader is willing to suspend disbelief, Death of an Alchemist is an entertaining, Renaissance mystery with a strong, female protagonist.
(Originally published in Manhattan Book Review.)