While researching a biography on the life of his ancestor, a hereditary peer in the House of Lords on the verge of losing his privileges thanks to a new bill faces his own family demons and uncovers the dark secrets of his heritage.
The Blood Doctor was not quite as dark or titillating as some of Barbara Vine’s other books. It doesn’t use crime as the engine for the mystery; rather, the story is fueled by the current Lord Martin Nanther’s obsession with his illustrious forebear, a doctor specializing in hemophilia who consulted Queen Victoria. It shouldn’t work half as well as it does, just reading about the writing of a fictional biography, but as usual Vine’s mastery of character construction kept me riveted.
She amplifies the story by giving Lord Nanther two additional storylines that intersect with his research into Dr. Henry Nanther. The first is his position as a hereditary peer in the House of Lords, which is voting to abolish hereditary peerages. Basically, that means that anyone who inherited his or her title would no longer be eligible to be a part of the government. You’d have to be voted in or appointed. Despite the fact that Martin will lose the work he loves, he, like most of his fellow peers, votes for his own obsolescence. One of his friends calls it the “twilight of the Gods” and Vine ably conjures the melancholy associated with that turn of phrase.
The second concerns Martin’s second wife Jude, who has suffered from multiple miscarriages. Martin’s ambivalence over having a second child (he has a son from his first wife) alienates him from Jude even as he struggles to keep his feelings a secret from her. I particularly loved the layers that this storyline lent to his research into Dr. Henry Nanther.