Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Book #73

The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry

Edinburgh, 1847. City of Medicine, Money, Murder.

Young women are being discovered dead across the Old Town, all having suffered similarly gruesome ends. In the New Town, medical student Will Raven is about to start his apprenticeship with the brilliant and renowned Dr Simpson.
It is here that Raven meets housemaid Sarah Fisher, who recognises trouble when she sees it and takes an immediate dislike to him. She has all of his intelligence but none of his privileges, in particular his medical education.
With each having their own motive to look deeper into these deaths, Raven and Sarah find themselves propelled headlong into the darkest shadows of Edinburgh's underworld, where they will have to overcome their differences if they are to make it out alive.

What a wonderful walk through the Victorian streets of Edinburgh. This is one of my favourite eras to read, but rarely do I find one set in streets I’ve walked myself.

Our protagonist, and many other characters here, are medical men. I found it fascinating to read of the methods employed in those days - amputation with an audience is a particularly shocking example - and relished in the knowledge of how far we’ve come. Enthralling as they were, I did feel as though the medical descriptions were at the forefront of the prose, forcing the criminal aspects to take a backseat.

Medicine and medical procedures are an integral part of the plot and subsequent mysteries here. It’s an original twist on the old murder mystery, and the prose supported the gloom of it with its atmospheric, and sometimes quite bleak and chilling, word choice and structure.

The commentary on social customs here was exquisite - a real view of social class, gender, and the measures people would take to elevate their social standing. Even the wealthy and successful had ferocious appetites to gain more wealth, and more success. The focus here is on women as victims, and women as the oppressed; our female protagonist was given to us as a real breaker of chains, and I loved her for it.

I really would have liked the crime to have taken more precedent over the medical explanations, but this series has real potential purely down to the skill of the writers. I plan to read the sequel, The Art of Dying (ominous), very soon.

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