Don’t be fooled by the Barbara Vine authorship. It is really Ruth Rendell in disguise. She was (she died last year) a famous British crime writer, with probably her most well known series starring Inspector Wexford. She used Barbara Vine to differentiate those series from her other work.
The Blood Doctor is a fascinating story revolving around hemophilia genetics, genealogy and a long ago crime.
It is told by a hereditary peer, who lives in an upper class house in London, but not a spectacular one, who has given up his job to be a biographer, at which is he modestly successful. He is also a member of the House of Lords, and this book was written in 2002, I believe, when there was a lot of razzle dazzle going on about reforming the Upper House to boot out the hereditary peers allowing only life peers the right to vote. So for this Damn Yankee, all the descriptions of the rooms in Parliament, and how the Upper House was arranged and who sat where, etc, was kind of interesting.
Well, this guy decides to write a biography of his great grandfather when he discovers that the old boy kept a mistress for nine years and when his fiancee died, married her sister, giving her, incidentally, the same engagement ring. This great grandfather was a doctor, specializing not only in blood diseases, but in hemophilia in particular, and was appointed as one of the physicians to Queen Victoria, who, you may know, was a carrier of the gene for hemophilia, and whose daughters were carriers and whose son was afflicted with the disease. Now, of course, this is fiction, so the part about him being her physician is made up, but there is a lot of information about hemophilia and Queen Victoria and her line, and we learn that apart from it being passed down through the female line, that a son of a hemophilia cannot himself be a hemophilia. We also learn that in about 30% of all cases, it comes from a spontaneously mutating gene on the female side.
In addition, the biographer’s second wife is trying to get pregnant, but has had miscarriage after miscarriage, and there is a whole lot about that issue as well.
He comes in contact with several cousins and aunts in in search for more material with which to write his book, and further information turns up further strange facts and incidents, with lead to further interviews, and the who thing gets just a touch unwieldy so that Mz. Vine has to keep repeating the lineages for us confused readers as to who begat whom and it does get a bit tedious, but as we slog on, we get dragged deeper and deeper into what is shaping up to be something nefarious in the past.
I really like her writing, and this was a great story with lots of incidental info that I didn’t know, like about hemophilia and how the House of Lords operates.