Fiction – paperback; Penguin; 446 pages; 2003.
Barbara Vine’s The Blood Doctor is a wholly original book about a hereditary peer, Martin Nanther, researching a biography on his great great grandfather, Henry Nanther, the favoured physician of Queen Victoria. Dr Nanther was an expert in blood disorders (hence the novel’s title), but he kept a deadly secret, which has been buried for two generations. As Martin digs around old family records, letters and personal journals he unravels, slowly but surely, the horrifying truth that his distant relative was trying to conceal.
This is an interesting and intriguing novel, and Vine has obviously done her research on hemophilia, which gives the storyline more credibility. She manages to make the issue of genetic mutations (which is how hemophilia is passed down from generation to generation) more real by putting it in a modern day context: Martin’s wife experiences a series of miscarriages caused, it is later revealed, by a genetic disorder.
I also enjoyed Vine’s descriptions of life in the House of Lords (the author herself was made a life peer in 1997). But I found some of her plotting laborious and the endless succession of family names and who was related to who somewhat confusing (although the family tree in the front of the book did help a little).
Some serious editing would have improved this book and made it slightly punchier and less rambling. Despite this, the killer ending is worth ploughing through the 400+ pages.