When betrayed by men they trusted, women long ago had fewer options than today. In Sarah Penner’s bestseller The Lost Apothecary (2021), three female narrators take control of their lives in suspense-filled narratives that weave into one.
Nella, a London apothecary in 1791, sells exclusively to women to resolve such ailments as menstrual cramps or unfaithful husbands. Twelve-year-old servant Eliza, who visits the shop for poison on behalf of her mistress, pleads in vain to become Nella’s protégé. Caroline, a present-day American vacationing alone in London after learning of her husband’s infidelity, finds an old vial in the mud. Following clues that lead her gradually to Nella and Eliza (and, at one point, almost to prison), Caroline rediscovers her passion for history, abandoned in the mud of her role as supportive wife.
Constant surprises in both the apothecary’s tale and Caroline’s detective work kept me turning pages from the day this book appeared under the Christmas tree. Friendships among the complex characters reveal strength and resilience. It’s a perfect read for a lover of historical fiction, mystery, or both.
What are you reading these days?
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.