Kill-Grief – Caroline Rance

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This book transports you straight into the horrors of an 18th century English hospital. The problem was that I’m not sure it is a place I ever want to witness! The squalor was vividly described, and I don’t think I have ever read a book which conveys the smells of the scene so convincingly. It was disgusting!

The book has clearly been meticulously researched and contains many interesting snippets about the medical practices of the time, but the majority of the time I didn’t really want to read about them: 

He pressed his thumb into the inflamed skin and a thicker bead of pus exuded from the cut, retreating like a wary maggot when he let go.

I was alternately absorbed and revolted!

The book follows Mary, a reluctant nurse, who has to deal with the all the bodily functions thrown at her, on top of the secrets she is hiding. Mary is struggling to become independent and is initially over-whelmed by her new  life in Chester, as she is used to a very different life by the sea. As the book progresses she gains in confidence and her hidden past is gradually revealed. The book is very well paced and the plot, although quite simple, is compelling.

If I had to make one criticism it would be that the male characters in the book did not stand out for me. Mary was such an amazing character that all the men in the book seemed to pale into insignificance beside her. I didn’t really mind this though – it is good to see such a strong female character, particularly in historical fiction, every once in a while.

Recommended to historical fiction fans with a stomach of steel!


Are you squeamish?

Can you read gory scenes easily?

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  1. Simon S says:

    Oh this sounds kind of fantastic! I love that period in history and you want something real, and things were awful then!
    I am going to keep an eye out for this one!
    I don’t mind gory, only American Psycho has properly made my stomach turn but its a masterpiece so you forgive it sort of!

    1. Jackie says:

      Yes, it does seem incredibly realistic – I don’t think I’ve read a book which brings across the squalor of the time so well.

  2. Beth says:

    This sounds like a brilliant read, I am not sure how sqeamish I am but I think I may have to request this from my library, thanks for the review!
    Big Hugs, bethxx

    1. Jackie says:

      It is very different from anything else I’ve read. I think you’ll quickly find out how squemish you are – the smells hit you from the first page!

  3. Sandy says:

    I am all over this. The more disgusting, the better! I have a morbid fascination with this type of thing. I guess I should have been a nurse or something. It does help to have this strong constitution with two kids – we have lots of blood and ooze going around. I am quite proud of you for getting through this, and rating it a four star!

    1. Jackie says:

      I don’t have a problem dealing with my children’s smells (although I’m not very fond of clearing up sick), but the excretions of strangers are another thing – I’ll be retching within a few seconds. The vividness of it all demanded 4 stars, even though I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. If you can cope with pus and poo then you’ll be fine!

      1. Sandy says:

        Haha! Just call me Sandy Puspoo Nawrot!

  4. iliana says:

    I love a good historical tale and this sounds great although I’ll definitely have to be in the mood for it. I will have to remember not to read this one right before going to sleep or while I’m eating :)

    1. Jackie says:

      I don’t think this one needs to be avoided before bed – it isn’t at all scary.

      It isn’t one to be read before a meal though!!! LOL!!

  5. Steph says:

    This might be something I would enjoy. I do have a freakish fascination with the human body as well as medical things (I love watching surgery shows on educational channels, and over our honeymoon I may have been sucked into watching hours of programming about creepy parasites that can infect humans…). I’ll definitely keep this one in mind! ;)

    1. Jackie says:

      I’m not a fan of watching operations on TV, so perhaps I am more squemish than most!

      You will probably find this really interesting if you enjoy learning about medical practices.

  6. Beth F says:

    This sounds like my kind of book! Really!

    1. Jackie says:

      I think you’d enjoy it – I’d love to hear what you think of it.

  7. Caroline says:

    Thank you, Jackie, for taking the time to read and review my book – much appreciated!

    1. Jackie says:

      I’m so happy – you are the first author to comment on their own review!!! Thank you!

      I really enjoyed reading your book – thank you for writing it!

      I’d love to know about the research you did for this book. Do you enjoy reading about the medical procedures of this time period? How did you manage to capture the smells so realistically? Did you visit any sick people to observe their pus? LOL!!!

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. Let me know if you write any more books – I’ll be first in the queue to read them!

      1. Caroline says:

        I loved doing the research. The starting point was the actual records of Chester Infirmary in the 1750s – these showed how the hospital was run, and I used some of the names of real-life staff. For the more gruesome aspects, I read 18th-century surgical textbooks and visited medical history museums to see things like the instruments used. I find all that stuff really interesting.

        I have seen a fair bit of blood and pus while looking after horses for the past 20 years, so had some first-hand experience of that!

        As for the smells, I think I must have an unusually strong sense of smell, as that’s often what I notice first about a place. I find modern life quite smelly too, so it was fairly easy to imagine the smells in all the new situations Mary finds herself in.

        I’m writing another book at the moment, set in the world of Victorian freak shows. It’s much less gruesome, though it does have its moments!

        Thanks again for the review! Would you be interested in having a copy of the book to give away in a prize draw? If so, drop me a line via my website.

        Best wishes,

  8. She says:

    Ah! I definitely want to pick this up for a read; it sounds spot on!

    1. Jackie says:

      I’m pleased to have brought it to your attention.

  9. I think I could take it! I don’t mind the gruesome, if it has a purpose.

    1. Jackie says:

      I think the gruesomeness does have a real purpose. It realistically describes what life was like during that period of history – it isn’t nice, but it is true.

  10. Violet says:

    Oh I am squemish but I can read gory scenes alright. This book sounds right up my alley. Thanks for the review.

    1. Jackie says:

      Not sure how you can be squemish but OK with gory scenes – this is a good book though – I’m sure you’d like it.

      1. Violet says:

        Its called resistance to everything squemish. In fact I have mastered it over the years. Now I can watch anything, almost. I used to send links to my friends but they threatened to block me :)

        I guess its buried so deep inside that I don’t realize its there anymore :)

  11. Nicole says:

    Nothing insightful to add, just ewww! I would be interested and revolted as well. I don’t know if I am particularly squeamish, but I can see reading this and making a face.

    1. Jackie says:

      interested and revolted

      That’s how I felt!

  12. Kari says:

    Gross! I don’t have a stomach for these things…I’d never make it through!

  13. I don’t mind gory things in books at all and may have to give this one a try!


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