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Poisons, potions and mystery

April 21, 2015
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Maine author Mary Lawrence talks about The Alchemist's Daughter'

'The Alchemist's Daughter' ($15, Kennsington Books) follows the work of Bianca Goddard, who lives in the gritty underbelly of Victorian London, usually dispensing cures from her 'Medicinals and Physicks' while avoiding the occult nature her name has gotten from her father's dabbling in alchemy. However, it's her own name (and neck) on the line when her good friend who came into her room for a cure suddenly dies in her care. Both Bianca and the constable suspect poison but unfortunately, the constable believes Bianca is the culprit.

Determined to clear her name, Bianca must piece together the clues and find out who wanted her friend dead and why before she is arrested and sent to the gallows herself.

'I have a background in science and I work in a hospital, but I've always liked history,' said Mary Lawrence in a phone interview. 'The idea for the character came to me about 20 years ago while I was wandering around the USM stacks and kind of looking through things. I found a book on alchemy and it was right up my alley. I like that sort of thing, and had a background in chemistry and biology. I thought, Oh, wow wouldn't it be interesting to be in one of the laboratories back then? What would it be like?'

Rather than write about the intrigues of the court, Lawrence wanted to focus on the goings-on of the small folk, or the commoners.

'I thought, What would it be like to be a commoner back then?' and pretty soon some ideas came to me about things,' she said.

Though based in history, the book has taken some liberties with characterization in order to have a strong female lead.

'Even though she is a modern construct, I tried to keep her as much focused on the era. If I could keep her within the general sense of being respectful of where she is in space in time,' said Lawrence.

Bianca Goddard is a product of both her parents: her father, a known alchemist who was caught up in a plot to assassinate the king; and her mother, an herbalist and healer. Bianca is where those two worlds meet.

'Her father was an alchemist and she picked up a lot of stuff. She is curious about it, but hates being called an alchemist or having anything to do with it. Her mother was the neighborhood white witch anyone with a knowledge of herbals would often trade her remedies for eggs or something to survive. Bianca is a strange product of learning some herbal stuff from her mother and chemical process stuff from her father. As we go through the series she will dabble a bit more and [the series will have] a lot more alchemy in it.'

The first book is an engaging mystery with vibrant characters and a unique look into the seedy life of the Southwark slums. Readers will be caught up in the mystery and watch as a woman and her few friends piece together events using their wits and persuasion in the dank alleys and whorehouses of old London.

Lawrence has signed on for a three-book series of Bianca Goddard Mysteries. For more information on the series and on Lawrence, visit, and for information on other Kensington titles visit

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