A dangerous element discovered by Bianca Goddard’s father falls into the wrong hands . . . leading to a chain of multiple murders.
Spring 1544: Now that she is with child, Bianca is more determined than ever to distance herself from her unstable father. Desperate to win back the favor of King Henry VIII, disgraced alchemist Albern Goddard plans to reveal a powerful new element he’s discovered–one with deadly potential. But when the substance is stolen, he is panicked and expects his daughter to help.
Soon after, a woman’s body is found behind the Dim Dragon Inn, an eerie green vapor rising from her breathless mouth. To her grave concern, Bianca has reason to suspect her own mother may be involved in the theft and the murder. As her husband John is conscripted into King Henry’s army to subdue Scottish resistance, Bianca must navigate a twisted and treacherous path among alchemists, apothecaries, chandlers, and scoundrels–to find out who among them is willing to kill to possess the element known as lapis mortem, the stone of death . . .
The Bianca Goddard mysteries are set during the final years of King Henry VIII’s brutal reign. Bianca is the daughter of an infamous alchemist who uses her rudimentary knowledge of chemistry to solve murders and create medicines in Tudor London. Though Bianca uses various alchemy methods to her advantage, she would be insulted if anyone called her an alchemist. So, what is alchemy and why did men pursue it?
Regarded as the “Noble Art”, alchemy evolved over several centuries and three continents. It is a culturally and philosophically diverse study encompassing chemical, religious, mathematical, and mystical ideas. There seems to be no single doctrine or method to this pseudoscience, but alchemists did adhere to some common core beliefs.
The most basic tenet is the creation of a philosopher’s stone which could transform base or imperfect metals into gold or silver. Alchemists also believed an elixir of life could be found that would grant immortality. According to alchemists, all matter (both living and dead) was composed of four elements: air, earth, fire, and water, in varying proportions. By putting a substance through processes or “projections”, one could alter or “transmute” a substance to its perfection.
Alchemists were quite secretive about their processes. They disguised their recipes and findings using symbolic drawings representing different alchemical processes and ingredients. On the surface, these appear like meaningless and fanciful renderings. For example, this image of a green lion eating the sun, represents a green, liquid sulfate called vitriol that can dissolve everything leaving gold behind.
This image of a bulbous vessel is symbolic of a woman’s womb in which life is created.
In sixteenth century England, an alchemist was required to have a license to practice his dark art. Certainly if he succeeded in creating gold, King Henry would want to be informed. It stood to reason that Harry wished to benefit from such a discovery and prevent any riches being used against him to usurp his power.
But how were alchemists regarded in Tudor England? Why would Bianca be insulted? It appears that alchemists were equally revered and mocked for their mysterious pursuits. A successful alchemist was usually an adept charlatan, using little more than trickery and false claims to advance his cause and secure funding from a gullible patron. Very few alchemists were able to endure their patron’s impatience and ultimate disappointment. Those alchemists who were unable to find a wealthy patron often drove their family to ruin, using every last coin to purchase equipment or ingredients to fuel their obsession. It is the latter circumstance that my character Bianca found herself as a child. Left to her own devices, she learned to pick pockets in order to survive. However, she did learn some basic chemistry from hours spent assisting her father in his alchemy room. Bianca is smart enough to see the benefits of some of her father’s methods, yet wise enough to see the futility of his gamble to create gold or the elixir of immortality.
Today, we can thank western European alchemists for laying the foundation of modern-day chemistry, and science inquiry. Alchemists may not have been able to transmute base metals into gold, but their curiosity and rudimentary experimentation laid the foundation for discovering riches far beyond what they could ever have imagined.
About The Author
Mary Lawrence lives and farms in Maine and worked in the medical field for over twenty-five years before publishing her debut mystery, The Alchemist’s Daughter (Kensington, 2015). The book was named by Suspense Magazine as a “Best Book of 2015” in the historical mystery category. Her articles have appeared in several publications most notably the national news blog, The Daily Beast. The Bianca Goddard Mystery series also includes Death of an Alchemist, Death at St. Vedast, The Alchemist of Lost Souls, and the fifth title for 2020.
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