The Way of All Flesh
by Ambrose Parry
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Pub Date 30 Aug 2018 | Archive Date 16 Aug 2018
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.
Simpson’s patients range from the richest to the poorest of this divided city. His house is like no other, full of visiting luminaries and daring experiments in the new medical frontier of anaesthesia. It is here that Raven meets housemaid Sarah, 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.
The Way of All Flesh is the debut novel from Ambrose Parry: co-written by best-selling crime writer Chris Brookmyre and consultant anaesthetist Dr Marisa Haetzman.
'Everything you could possibly want in a historical crime fiction novel with extra thrills and chills on the side' – Stuart MacBride
'Everything you could possibly want in a historical crime fiction novel with extra thrills and chills on the side' – Stuart MacBride
Average rating from 167 members
This novel is the first to be written as a joint venture between novelist Chris Brookmyre and MA student in the History of Medicine, Marisa Haetzman. The setting is 1847 Edinburgh, a town of two very different halves, where the respectable and affluent New Town lies alongside the poverty and corruption of the Old Town. Our protagonist, Will Raven, is running from some rather seedy events and debts in the poorer areas of Edinburgh by taking up a medical apprenticeship with the famous obstetrician, Dr Simpson. It is at the house of his new employer that Will meets Sarah, a housemaid with a passion for learning about botanical cures, and they investigate a series of suspicious deaths among the prostitutes and servants of Edinburgh.
The notes at the end of the novel make it clear that this is intended as the start of a series following Will and Sarah, for which I am very grateful. I loved this book for so many reasons, not least the atmospheric descriptions of the setting, the believable characters, the insight into medical advancements, the pace and plot, the twists in the story...I could go on!
What really struck me was how the two main characters, Will and Sarah, were presented so realistically. I loved the fact that both had their flaws and quirks as this made them feel very human and real. The feminist in me loves a story where women aim to break through society's limited expectations of them, so Sarah is a gem of a character, as she is tough and aspirational and seeking medical knowledge in a time when women were not expected or permitted to engage with such things. I also liked the fact that the story incorporated historical figures and events, with the real Dr Simpson being credited with the first use of chloroform to assist childbirth (an event described in the novel). The medical detail in the novel is impressively researched and fascinating, if a little gruesome at times.
I'd whole-heartedly recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, especially with a medical theme - in this regard, I found the novel slightly reminiscent of the excellent Jem Flockhart series by E. S. Thomson. This is beautifully researched and written and definitely worth a read.
This has to be one of the most gothic visits to Edinburgh town
I ever did make in my life. Ooh that sounds like the start of a rhyme doesn’t it? The cover opened and what a cover it is by the way! and immediately I was sucked into a world of vice, dark deeds and a ‘Fetid labyrinth’ that was Edinburgh in 1847.
Novels like this are thrilling if done right and boy was this done right. Evoking sights, sounds and smells of a time gone by, with a little bit of history thrown in such as the “Irish invasion from Glasgow”
I loved this from the first page. A fully immersive novel with a great plot and mysterious threads throughout. It’s extremely vivid read and I hear it’s the first of many. Bring them on! Missing Raven and co already.
I will post on The BookTrail nearer the time.
When a couple of young women are found dead in similar suspicious circumstances, medical student Will Raven - apprenticed to Dr Simpson and Simpson's housemaid Sarah investigate which leads them into some grave trouble.
This is a fast-paced gritty historical fiction set in 1840's Edinburgh, when Edinburgh led the world in the field of medicine.
This is a story of the birth of anaesthesia, of power and corruption.
I loved this and I'm glad there will be more. 5*
I selected “the way of all flesh” based on the description without realising it was the pseudonym of one of my favourite authors working with his wife, Marisa Haetzman - a consultant anaesthetist. This medical crime thriller set in early Victorian edinburgh is a great new direction for Chris Brookmyre (one that is decidedly less sweary!), combining medical history with the usual pace and violent threat, plus a strong through-line addressing the restrictive position of women in society at this time (and the future possibilities).
Drawing on the established history and (presumably!) embellishing this with the central mystery, the book convincingly develops the Edinburgh of the 1840s and the clash of class and medical ethics without losing the convoluted plotting and unexpected twists. I’m looking forward to more from “Ambrose Parry”.
I have ODed a bit on fantasy lately so this was exactly what I needed. Fast paced historical medical crime set in 19th C Edinburgh – I was in love before I even met the protagonists. Raven, a young doctor in training, and Sarah, a housemaid who should be a doctor, formed an unlikely, reluctant team to discover who is killing women across the city. Both have their own agendas and character journeys in this well structured and compelling novel. I absolutely gulped this down. A brilliant book, replete with pleasing historical detail.
I have been riveted by this debut novel. Set in Edinburgh the scene is set very quickly. The characters believable and identifiable. Although a murder mystery I found the historical backdrop to the storyline interesting and informative. Especially the medical/surgical information. Gruesome at times but not gratuitous. The story moves at a pace and would highly recommend this to readers that enjoy books with more depth than some I have read recently. I shall look forward to reading the author's next novel. Will there be a series. Would love to read more about Will and Sarah
Oh what a fascinating book, I loved every word.
Set in the mid 19th Century when Doctors (male) were a bunch of pompous, egotistical know-it-alls who tended to see and treat women as third class citizens, this novel follows a doctor's apprentice through times thick and thin in the field of midwifery. I get so angry when reading fact or fiction written about the stupidity of all the men who hold such beliefs, whether they be professionals or more ordinary folk - yes, I'm male!
Without letting any cats out of the bag, here's an example of their stupidity. At one extreme doctors set themselves way, way above mere mortals and yet, as doctors of midwifery, they agreed to delivery babies solely by touch as they were not allowed to look at what was going on, the area being covered with a blanket.
My guess is this book will turn into at least a trilogy and I shall wait impatiently for the second volume. Overall, this book is a great read; even if you don't get as angry at the characters as I did.
The Way of All Flesh is a great historical drama. I really enjoyed reading it and am glad to read that it will be part of a series so I can continue to enjoy Will and Sarah's stories.
Its a hard book to review without giving away spoilers but I loved the suspense and although I guessed the guilty party I thoroughly enjoyed the way the story panned out.
The story takes you to 1800 Scotland. The plot was enjoyable with strong characters. I enjoyed reading this book and would recommend.
Set in Edinburgh starting in 1847 following the life of a young, intelligent housemaid and an apprentice doctor; both working for a Professor of Midwifery this is a gritty and realistic novel. From reasonably straightforward birth to the most distressing, the story takes them all in. There is a real sense of the difference between the haves and the have nots - and those who float somewhere in between.
I enjoyed this book and look forward to the next in the series.
This book really does have it all. I was initially attracted by the genre: historical fiction and the setting: 19th century Edinburgh. However the actual novel offers the reader so much more than this including a fascinating insight into the development of anaesthesia and obstetrics, as well as glimpses into the new science of photography. The cast of the novel includes strongly written main characters, Raven and Sarah and interesting lesser characters, many of whom were real historical personages such as Professor James Simpson, photography pioneers Robert Adamson and Octavius Hill and other doctors of the time, Keith and Duncan. The plot covers historical and scientific discoveries as well as an exposure of the dark underbelly of 19th century Edinburgh and an investigation into the gruesome deaths of young women in the city whose bodies are found to be twisted and contorted but with no apparent cause. Throughout this plot run strong themes of gender and class discrimination, mostly with Raven and Sarah as the vehicles but also through the character of Simpson's sister in law, Mina.
As I read the book I did see it as very televisual, particularly during scenes in the Old Town streets of Edinburgh and round Simpson's dinner table. I was therefore delighted to find out that the TV rights have already been bought for this book In my mind's eye I see Lorn Macdonald as Raven and Dani Heron as Sarah. These Scottish actors appeared together recently in the Citizen's Theatre (Glasgow) adaptation of A Long Day's Journey into Night).
As I read the book I really appreciated the work of the author in researching the scientific history and historical geography of Edinburgh as well as his (?) crafting of character and narrative development. I did wonder on several occasions who Ambrose Parry, the author, was: what gender, professional background and home location. I had not come across the name before and determined to find out more, hoping that there would be more to come from this author. I laughed out loud when on finishing the novel's last page, I turned to the next page in the book and found an interview with Ambrose Parry which is in fact a pseudonym for a writing partnership between Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman, the former being one of my favourite authors who has always inspired me by his ability to write from a female perspective. Chris is married to Marisa who is a consultant anaesthetist with a Master's degree in medical history. At an author's talk I attended last year, Chris referred to Marisa's influence on his work. I had later read that there was to be a collaborative writing project between them but had forgotten this as I read 'In the Way of All Flesh'. This writing partnership has worked really well to produce a fascinating and gripping read with strong characters, plot and themes as well as through research. My recommendations have already started and I was also delighted to read this is to be the first of a series.
I received a complimentary ARC of this book from the publisher via Net Galley in return for an honest review.
The name of the author is a good joke – an anglicised form of the French court surgeon during the Paris St Bartholomew’s Day massacre.
And there are massacres in this book too…but in early nineteenth century Edinburgh…and involving doctors, surgeons and medical students. The protagonists, Raven and Sarah, are an engaging pair, the first a medical student with no money, the second, a serving girl, who asks very astute questions. The Scottish setting is very convincing, with its mixture of casual, poverty stricken violence and thrusting advances in the knowledge and application of medical science, for example the discovery and use of chloroform to alleviate pain in child birth.
For some time, society carries on unaware that there is a murderer in its midst, but the reader knows better and gradually Raven and Sarah are drawn into dangerous investigation. That the killer is a medical man is clear from early on and although there are some red-herrings, it is not at all difficult to identify the guilty party. Nevertheless, there is much to enjoy in this novel: the Edinburgh setting, the appraisal of the limited freedom available to women, the advances in study and especially medical knowledge, an exciting and inventive, if downright bloody, narrative and very sympathetic hero and heroine.
This book is a historical serial killer thriller and hits the perfect spot betwixt.
Our wannabe medical man protagonist Is placed in Victorian Edinburgh, a place darkened by body snatchers and medical advancements unaided by anaesthesia. Uncovering the grotesquely contorted body of a friend sets him down a path of multiple murders and a desperate race to find the killer. An advantageous love/hate relationship with a housemaid of the lower orders provides some comic relief and the plot advances swiftly and excitingly.
The language of the period is caputured fantastically and this book seems to have been very well researched. I have no hesitation in recommending it and have awarded 4 stars. I am also delighted to report that this is the first in the series and I cannot wait to devour the next one. An excellent debut.
Was so relieved when I realised that this was not end of the story! When will the next one be released? I want to know more? And that about sums up my feelings for this book. A young Rebus in the making mixed with a little ‘Call the Midwife,’ I loved the characters, the history, the setting and the fact that it always kept one step ahead of me! I would be thinking ‘ah what about that?’ And the next page would reveal all. I am hooked, more please!
This book was a really good historical murder mystery. So many twists and turns that kept me reading into the night
What a fantastic book - it absolutely deserves to be a book of the month. Not only is this a murder mystery, there is social and medical history and even a touch of romance. The characters are compelling and the setting in Edinburgh is described very evocatively. Looking forward to the next book in the series.
Set in Edinburgh in the mid-19th century, The Way of All Flesh is both an informative account of the development of anaesthesia and a historical murder mystery.
Will Raven is a young medical student working as assistant to the famous James Young Simpson, pioneer of painless childbirth. Impoverished and of dubious parentage, Raven has secrets to keep and financial problems to solve. If he can do well with Dr Simpson, he will be set up for life. The work is challenging and often gruesome - women die in agony or survive at the cost of their infant's life. Simpson experiments with ether and other prospective anaesthetics (often on himself and his colleagues) before he hits on chloroform.
Meanwhile, women's bodies are being found contorted into positions of apparent agony. Raven's friend, Evie, is one such and he determines to discover what has happened to her and to the other women of the lower orders thus cruelly disposed of.
He forms an uneasy alliance with Sarah, the Simpsons' housemaid, who has also had a friend die in similar circumstances. Sarah is intelligent and forthright - neither qualities likely to serve her in her employment. She dreams of better things and resents Raven's ability to move up in the world in a way that is denied to her.
This is an extremely well-written page-turner with plenty of excitement and interest on every page. The descriptions of medical matters are often graphic but never unnecessarily so. Both Will and Sarah are well-rounded characters with faults and foibles as well as strength and compassion. Edinburgh itself plays a major role, from the foetid wynds and ginnels of the Canongate to the pleasant streets of the Georgian New Town.
Ostensibly by Ambrose Parry, this novel, as I discovered after reading it, was in fact written by Christopher Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman. Brookmyre, who needs no introduction, has reined in the more excessive aspects of his graphic comedy; Haetzman is his wife and a consultant anaesthetist. It appears to be a perfect partnership. More books in this series are planned and I could visualise them as a tv series.
My thanks to Netgalley for an ARC of this book in return for an honest review.. I requested this novel, set in Edinburgh in 1847, because I was about to visit the city, having made a previous trip. I’m so glad I did .The author, Ambrose Parry is in fact two people, the author Chris Brookmyre and his wife Marisa Haetzman, who researched medical history for an MA. They realised that all her research material had the ingredients of a novel and as they developed it they knew that it would probably be several books. I usually avoid co authored books because you can often see the joins.. Not this time. What a great piece of writing. So darkly atmospheric.
It’s set in both the Old Town and the New Town of Edinburgh. In New Town it centres on the Home of Dr Simpson, a well known gynaecologist and surgeon, who that year was instrumental in discovering the anaesthetic properties of a substance that he was to call chloroform. He used it to alleviate the sufferings of child birth and to assist with difficult births, which in those days were frequently fatal. Also living in his house were his assistants, Drs Mathew Duncan and George Keith, all actual people .Around these facts the authors have woven a chilling and intriguing tale. Their principal characters , all imaginary, are Will Raven, a graduate of the university and now living in Dr Simpson’s house in Queen Street as an apprentice learning the skills of midwifery and gynaecology.. Also living in the house is Sarah Fisher the seventeen year old housemaid, who is highly intelligent, but because she is of lowly birth and more importantly, female, is destined to never rise above this station in life. Sarah reads the chemical and medical books that are in the house and assists in a basic capacity with clinics. There are many other colourful characters, typical of their time, who contribute to the unfolding story. The filth smells, brutality and shortness of human life are all portrayed as are the finery and pretensions of the more wealthy inhabitants.
Should anyone be visiting Edinburgh, I recommend a visit to the National Trust for Scotland houses, one in the Old Town and the other in the New Town. They will help to set the scene and greatly enhance enjoyment of this superb novel.. I eagerly await the next in this series.
As the author of Doctor Pritchard the Poisoning Adulterer, about the murders committed by Dr Edward William Pritchard in Victorian Glasgow. I was intrigued to read this book. I wasn't disappointed. A fascinating well-written book, which expertly details the atmosphere of the city at the time. An excellent fictional plot with many twists and turns. Recommended
I was absolutely hooked from the first page to the last it is one of books where you say to yourself just one more page and before you know it you have read three more chapters. Loved the setting of Edinburgh for the plot, loved the many twists and turns. The author has created some great characters and can't wait to see how they develop in future stories.
Very highly recommended
A very enjoyable read.
I do love historical fiction, and the very best is based on meticulous research and understanding of the time in which the story is set. In this case, the factual details beautifully support a well crafted tale of murder and mystery.
We meet a cast of people faced with choices on how they live their lives and witness how these choices are influenced by their income - direst poverty need not lead to crime, but the temptations must be overwhelming. Those who live in comfort and have status in society have their own choices to make - and there is little excuse for choosing the path of villainy. There is one character however who has all the choice in the world - and none at all. His actions are those of a psychopath - a description our medical men of that time would barely recognise. This coming together of crimes, some driven by necessity and others from purely selfish motives, makes for a fascinating story. It's hard in our times to appreciate the sheer power of social status and the rigid moral codes of Victorian society, where 'fallen women' were never victims, but always the transgressor - and once fallen, there was no way back.
In a society where name and reputation mattered immensely, whatever your social class, our two leads make the perfect heroes. A young man hiding from his name and his past, seeking to lift himself into society through education and a reputable profession, yet drawn to the darker elements of a city he knows both sides of well, and a young woman who despite her intelligence and ability is wholly dependent on the good will of others, in her role as a low ranked servant.
During this period of history Edinburgh was at the forefront of the new age of Enlightenment - discoveries in science and medicine that would change the world - and yet a darkness hovers at the edges; a man driven by purely selfish needs and a society that prefers to look away rather than confront duplicity and immorality in those they have set at the top. Enlightenment, it seems, is only for those who keep one eye shut.
Through its wily and waggish narration “The Way of all Flesh” is a damned fine historical crime with the added kick of a distinctive duo. As the atmospheric reek of misery wafts through the streets of 19th century Edinburgh to sting their eyes, the collaboration of these pioneering personalities becomes nothing short of impressive.
But ask any servant where Will Raven should be placed in the official hierarchy of his medical apprenticeship’s household and most would consider him lower than the Doctor’s unruly parrot. Arriving on his first day a little worse for wear, the servants see him as an undernourished, dishevelled waif and are not coy when airing their disapproval.
Housemaid, Sarah Fisher, channels her own refined brand of hostility towards him. Her status and gender prevent her pursuing a career practicing medicine and Raven’s appearance only adds to her resentment, as this wretched young man is given opportunities while she remains invisible. Plus she’s generally suspicious of his character. To protest she cuts down his portions at meal times and volleys retorts quicker than her ‘rival’, despite his self-assured street smarts.
The trials of Raven and Fisher see the progression of medicine and regression in morality. The perspective of the abysmal options available to some, and the reprehensible conduct of others, is sharper than any surgeon’s knife.
I hope I will be treated to more of their curative exploits very soon.
Absolutely brilliant. Hooked from page 1 and read it straight through. Excellent plot with many twists and turns, and great characters (especially Sarah & Raven). Highly evocative of the period, and the attitudes towards women and the "lower classes" so prevalent then. Very highly recommended
This story is set in 19th Century Edinburgh in the infancy of anaesthesia. A young apprentice doctor and a knowledgeable housemaid who doesn’t know her place make unlikely allies on the surface, but this is going to be a formidable partnership.
It’s a slow burner in the sense that the first part of the book sets up characters and their relationships with one another. As this is the first of a proposed series, and the writing is enticing and the setting very atmospheric, this wasn’t a problem for me. I found this interesting both medically and historically and a jolly fine mystery too. A very good book indeed and I’ve already recommended it to several people.
In Edinburgh in 1847, medical student Will Raven is given the post of apprentice to Dr Simpson, a highly respected physician and an expert in anaesthesia. Raven is also given a room in the Simpson home and there he encounters Sarah, a maidservant who has a fascination for medical matters and secretly reads books on the subject, borrowed from Dr Simpson's library. A strong willed young woman, Sarah has hopes of one day working in the medical profession - an outrageous idea for a woman at that time in history.
Just before he joins the Simpson household, Evie - a prostitute who's become a friend of Raven - is found dead, her face and body hideously contorted and similar deaths in the poorest parts of Edinburgh have him believing these women may have been murdered.
As Dr Simpson treats patients from the richest to the poorest in Scotland's capital city and he and his colleagues carry out daring experiments. The book's language and descriptive settings seem to bring mid-19th Century Edinburgh to life. However, it has to be said that readers may find the details of Simpson and Raven's medical procedures rather unsettling - particularly those which involve difficult births - although I felt these only add to the story's ring of authenticity.
Meanwhile, Raven and Sarah carry out an investigation into the young girls' deaths and the couple, initially disliking each other, gradually share a mutual respect and the beginnings of a romantic involvement.
The action moves quickly along with the occasional pause for some of the characters to give vent to their views on various medical matters, particularly the use of anaesthetics, some of which are denounced by Scotland's more unenlightened religious leaders.
Ambrose Parry is a pseudonym for a collaboration between award-winning author Chris Brookmyre and his wife Marisa Haetzmana, herself a consultant anaesthetist. It was Marisa's research for her Master's degree in the History of Medicine which uncovered the material upon which this novel is based.
This is a remarkable story mixing medical drama with romance and murder mystery. I hope it's the first in a series about Raven and Sarah.
My thanks go to the publisher Canongate Books and Netgalley for the chance to read this book in exchange for an unbiased review.
I nearly didn't get past the first chapter of this book but, luckily, I persisted and by the first few sentences of the fourth chapter I was well and truly hooked on "The Way of all Flesh".
For a start, it is set in Edinburgh, my home town, and I really enjoyed reading this fictitional account of the medical Enlightenment in the 19th century set in a very credible reincarnation of the old city - the Old Town, the New Town and the (then) village suburbs which are now very much part of Edinburgh itself.
The plot is intriguing, based as it is on actual events and characters, and benefits from a brilliant narrative style, enhanced by excellent knowledge of the medical subject matter. It wasn't until I finished the book that I realised that it is the work of two people, one a very well- established author, and his wife, a student of medical history. And I'm delighted that it is the first in a series.
I have no hesitation in recommending this book, although for me it would have been a more compelling read initially if Chapter 4 had come before Chapters 1, 2 and 3. Many thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for providing me with a copy in exchange for this honest review.
The Way of all Flesh by Ambrose Parry is a first novel (and first of a series), co-written by Chris Brookmyre and consultant anaesthetist Dr Marisa Haetzman. It’s set in Edinburgh in the mid-nineteenth century, where Old Town and New Town are poles apart. There’s a lot of medical detail, which you need a strong stomach for but the main focus of the story is an investigation into what Raven, a young trainee doctor, is sure are murders of young women who deserve to be more than just ‘another deid hoor’. His collaborator is a remarkable character, Sarah, a housemaid of unusual intelligence and resourcefulness, who resents the limitations she faces through being a woman. An atmosdpheric story which brings Auld Reekie to life.
Co-written by crime writer Chris Brookmyre and consultant anaesthetist Marisa Haetzman, this is one of the most unusual books I have read in a while. It is simultaneously a historical medical murder mystery and a meditation on Victorian class and gender inequality, set against the ever-compelling backdrop of the radical medical advancements which occurred in nineteenth century Edinburgh, a city at the forefront of medical innovation.
The novel is very much rooted in its sense of place, the city itself being driving force in the narrative, as alive and vividly drawn as its engaging characters. The writing is consistently strong, and the balance between accurately depicting historical medical procedures and maintaining a thrilling, well-paced mystery is never anything less than perfect. The characterisation is also fantastic. Sarah - a proto-feminist housemaid with medical aspirations and talent to rival any man - was a standout for me, resonating strongly with my feminist sensibilities. The presence of real historical figures (such as the pioneering doctor James Young Simpson, blending seamlessly with fictional creations) added further authenticity to a historical novel which already conjures up a powerful and distinctive sense of time and place.
Needless to say, I really loved this book and am thrilled that it is only the first in a projected series of historical crime novels. I am already eagerly anticipating the sequel, and in the meantime will be recommending this one to anyone with an interest in historical and crime fiction.
I really enjoyed reading about Victorian medical student Will Raven and his house maid 'side kick'. What a great team. I even learned a little of medical history and how little regard was given to women trying to give birth and what happened when it went horribly wrong. I fumed about the fact that women were so badly regarded and treated in this era. I am looking forward to the next book in this series. A historical crime novel what a refreshing change.
Raven is stepping into his new role as a trainee doctor, and is keen to grab every opportunity. Sarah is relegated to the servants quarters, but she longs to be allowed to work in medicine. Despite initially clashing, the two find themselves working together to solve a string of mysterious deaths.
I received a free copy from Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
I found this a little bit slow to start with, but once I got into it, I was hooked.
This is set in Victorian Edinburgh, and follows a young doctor-in-training, Will Raven. He takes up residence as the new apprentice to Dr Simpson, one of the best obstetricians in the city.
Raven is initially driven by a financial need, to pay off debts he has accumulated (for very good reasons), but soon finds himself engaged in working out the mystery of the death of his friend (and working girl). The number of lower-class women and whores who end up dead starts to rack up, but the police have no time for these nobodies. It is up to Raven to find out who is behind the deaths, and why.
I didn't really like Raven in the beginning, his character was just a little bit jarring, too cocky and arrogant; but as the story went on, and the character developed, he got much better.
Sarah, on the other hand, I liked from the start.
She is our other narrator; a maid in Dr Simpson's service. She is also incredibly intelligent, and often grates at the fact that she cannot pursue a career in medicine, because she is a woman. She is further frustrated when Raven enters the house, and has every advantage, despite the fact he is lying about his past. They are of a similar age, and similar intelligence, but are set apart by class and gender; so they naturally butt heads to begin with.
The plot is well thought out, and pulls you along, feeding clues and throwing in red herrings naturally.
What I really like is the background to the story. You feel like you've been dropped into the middle of a period drama, the atmosphere is woven subtly, but is there for every page.
Even better is the insight into obstetrics in the Victorian age, and how medicine and chemistry were coming together to pave the new way. It is realistically gory, but the author does not revel in it, they simply present the facts and let the story do the rest. I felt like I came away learning something, as well as being entertained.
I would definitely recommend this book, and look forward to more of Parry's work.
When Will Raven starts his apprenticeship with the renowned Dr Simpson he gets more than he’s bargained for as women are being murdered around Edinburgh. Teaming up with housemaid Sarah, can they discover the truth before it’s too late?
The Way of All the Flesh is a historical fiction mystery that has strong medical base and knowledge thrown in. I felt this affected the pace quite a bit as it was a little slow to start, but sped up nicely towards the end to make me tear through the pages to find out the culprit.
The story itself seems very nicely researched and based in fact which is a nice touch. Upon reading more about the subject online I can see many famous figures are used as side-characters and many true (and remarkable!) events are used in the plot which is great. I enjoyed the descriptions of ancient, violent Edinburgh and thought the fictional characters of Raven and Sarah were well integrated into the factual story. I liked the slight romance between them and I gather there will be a sequel based around them which I will certainly look out for. The alternating narrative between them was a good choice and helped to carry the story along.
I did feel that the ‘modern’ touches were a little jarring – Sarah is quite a feminist and I did feel her viewpoints became a little preachey and unrealistic at times, particularly for someone of the lower classes – it felt like it was written with much too much hindsight in mind. As the story includes historically accurate story of the birth of ether and chloroform used in medical practice I did feel the inclusion of ‘peri peri’ was a bit weird and brought me out of the story a little.
Overall The Way of All the Flesh was a bit of a slow paced read to start with but is a well-researched historical fiction that will stay with you after you read it – and you learn some real history from it as well which is always a good thing! Thank you to NetGalley and Canongate Books for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
I didn't initially realise that this was Chris Brookmyre writing with a partner, given that it's historical (Edinburgh, 1840s). It's got all his usual pacing, and is a good combination of history of medicine and a bit of historical crime. Will Raven is an apprentice to Dr James Simpson, who is the obstetrician who pioneered the use of anesthesia, and Raven has something of a murky past. Sarah is Simpson's housemaid, who helps with the clinics in the house and is interested in medicine herself - although can't train any further as she's a woman and it's the 1840s. They discover that some mysterious deaths of prostitutes are connected, and that somewhere in the city there is an illegal and dangerous abortionist at work and begin to investigate. There's some social observation as well as the crime and the history of medicine, and some nice Edinburgh details which I very much enjoyed. It's a little slower paced than Brookmyre's usual books, but that suits the story and there's not a shortage of action - I really enjoyed it!
Raven is an apprentice ‘midwife’ to Dr Simpson a kind, generous doctor with an interest in anaesthesia. Raven owes money to violent ‘loan sharks’ after borrowing to lend money to his friend who is then found dead. He feels this was murder, and then there are further women found dead with the same contorted bodies.
Sarah is a housemaid, who also works for Dr Simpson, part time, in his surgery helping with patients and clearing up. She has a thirst for medical knowledge and reads medical books but as a women in these times, was disregarded.
Sarah and Raven do not get on initially, but they begin to investigate the deaths of the women and a little romance begins.
There’s a lot of medical information given and the use of ether in medicine and surgery in the 1840’s and it reminds you just how much medicine has advanced , thank goodness. Ambrose Parry, the author has clearly done a lot of research and while he includes a lot of this in the tale it is not confusing but just reinforces the story and gives background to medicine of the time.
It’s a great tale of medical drama, romance and a murder mystery.
This book was absolutely exceptional.
Set in 19th century Edinburgh, it follows a young doctor who starts an apprenticeship with a highly esteemed professor of midwifery. The bodies of prostitutes and housemaids begin to appear - it is a medical murder mystery, with a dark and fast-paced plot. The characters are interesting and gruesomely realistic.
The attention to detail is incredible - the historical portrait of the city, the accurate depiction of medicine, surgery and midwifery in the period, as well as a deeper consideration of the social attitudes to medical practice and advancement. It expertly portrays the roles and perceptions of women at that time without any heavy handed agenda.
I could not put it down and I would strongly recommend.
First in a promised series from the pair of writers forming Ambrose Parry, 'The Way of all Flesh' is a gripping thriller, exploring Victorian poverty in Edinburgh's backstreets, and the practice of illicit abortions.
Will Raven is newly apprenticed to renowned obstetrician Dr Simpson and soon finds himself discovering death, poisons and subterfuge, alongside Sarah, the Simpson's housemaid.
With historical context around the discovery of anaesthesia and its use in childbirth, the story proceeds apace, packed full of interesting characters. I thoroughly enjoyed this read and couldn't put it down. Looking forward to more in the series being written!
An enjoyable read. I am pleased to learn it is the first in a series. I look forward to the characters Raven and Sarah developing.this is a tale of old Edinburgh both of those in poverty and the affluent the author has taken time and effort to set the scene, the descriptive passages are superb. Close your eyes and you could be there. The telling of the early days of anaesthetic in childbirth is the setting, as is the place of women, this last point is something I hope Sarah goes on to challenge and hopefully sow the seeds of change.. The last chapter where the villain is told of his new job and the alternative should he refuse is brilliant. I look forward to the nest instalment sooner rather than later please
An interesting intriguing read set in historical Edinburgh. A wonderful atmospheric city to write about. This historical story is about the often gruesome practice of medicine in the 1800s. It is also about murders in the city. I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series.
Thank you to Netgalley for my copy.
Will Raven was going places, apprentice to the renowned Dr Simpson, he was learning midwifery from one of the best. But with a debt hanging over him and a desire to find out who is killing women all over Edinburgh, can Will be the Dr he wants to be.
At the start of this story Will Raven came across as quite pretentious. Quick with his mouth and never far from trouble. He always had something to prove, however as the story progress, you do get to find out more about his former life. By the end of the book he grew on me.
Sarah his partner in crime, was the housemaid of Dr Simpson. Like any maid in the 19th century maids were tended be ignored and women were second best. Throughout this book you could see how ambitious she was and if she was a women today she would of been a doctor, Clever, willing to learn and a very curious mind
I enjoy reading about 19th century and it was a pleasant change for a story to be set in Edinburgh and not London. The book was well researched and it was interesting to learn more about the medical procedures of the time. Whilst child birth was dangerous at that time, reading about it in graphic detail, just made it more real. Whilst this is a thriller it is a bit of a slow burn and it felt more like a backstory, that all changed in the last 25% of the book. As Will and Sarah were getting closer to the murderer it was full on and I was reading it quickly to find out who the murderer was. I enjoy a thriller more if the murderer is not easily guessed and this was one of those books. The ending was not expected and it showed just what type of people Dr Simpson and Will were.
This will be good to read as a series and I for one would love to read more about Will and Sarah.
This is meant to be the first in a series of crime novels and I cannot wait for the next one! Set in nineteenth century Edinburgh,its context is convincing and cleverly reinvents the atmosphere of the time. The surround of Simpson discovering chloroform makes it educationally interesting and that factual history merges well with the invented crime story concerning the murder of young women around the city. They lie well together. This has been well researched but is also well written. Come on the next one!
A thrilling medical drama set in the early days of modern medicine, old and new town Edinburgh feature as characters in their own right and anyone familiar with the tales of Burke and Hare and the like will enjoy this next step in the development of the medical profession. I confess that I don’t usually go for novels set in the past however this had me gripped from the start. Raven, Sarah and Simpson are all characters I’d love to see more of in the future.
Well thought out, this dramatic tale will leave you quite exhausted from the pace, it certainly rips along !
Looking forward to the next instalment which is certain to follow
I absolutely loved this book - a new collaboration between Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman. I'm not the only one to love it; I believe that the TV rights have been snapped up by Benedict Cumberbatch's TV production company. Something to look forward to on TV!
Back to the book: It's a historical medical mystery set in 19th century Edinburgh that moves skilfully between the two faces of our Capital city - the poor and the wealthy.
It's visceral - the scenes that involve childbirth really bring home to you how bloody and dangerous giving birth has been (for rich and poor alike) and makes you look anew at our beleaguered NHS. Which is not surprising, given that Dr Haetzman is a consultant anaesthetist.
The cast of characters is so well-written and the sense of place so beautifully defined, that I was sent scurrying to Google several times to see what and who was fact and what was fiction!
In the character of Will Raven we have a mysterious background which, even at the end of the book, promises to yield more in subsequent adventures. Sarah Fisher, the young housemaid with boundless curiosity and ambitions, we truly have a young woman to root for. Both find themselves working for the eminent Dr Simpson (a real person whose medical achievements, I'm utterly ashamed to admit, I had never heard of). But thanks to the skilful penwo/manship of Ambrose Parry he lives and breathes once again.
I wondered how it would work - Ambrose Parry being two people writing a book together. Especially when one is such a well-established voice as Chris Brookmyre. You don't need to worry, it's reassuringly Brookmyre - the sharp lines, the humour, the pace - it's all there. And, in between the Brookmyre, Dr Haetzman's historical research is seamlessly stitched.
Cannot wait to read more from Ambrose Parry about the goings on in the Simpson household and Fisher and Raven's next adventure
Great historical crime set in mid 19th century Edinburgh. The descriptions of childbirth during this time are enough to put anyone off getting pregnant but the atmosphere of medical advancement and experimentation makes for an interesting, exciting read. Loved the characters who are all complex and although I sort of guessed the twist, the story is well told, fast paced, humorous in parts, shocking in some and well worth a read. Sarah is a very strong female character, ahead of her time and I look forward to meeting her again in a further adventure. I guess that she and Will Raven will become a team and further medical adventures will ensue. Good stuff.
I remember several years ago going to a rather fascinating talk about the life and work of James Young Simpson who was the first to demonstrate and popularise the use of chloroform on humans. Two things I distinctly remember from the talk was that at the time major operations would be conducted without anaesthesia and that Simpson survived the chloroform dosages he administered to himself when testing its veracity. This is incorporated into this riveting historical crime drama written under the pen name of Ambrose Parry which is a collaboration between Chris Brookmyre often referred to as an author of "Tartan Noir" and his wife Marisa Haetzman a consultant anesthetist with a master’s degree in the history of medicine. Written in a style far removed from a normal Brookmyre novel and in keeping with a Victorian novel the story reflects the social, medical and gender issues that were prevalent at that time.
The story is set in 1840's Edinburgh a city that as we know has a split personality between its old and new town, one side inhabited by the rich and the other by the poor. As also reflected in the writings of Stevenson and Hogg this paints a wonderfully descriptive atmospheric caricature of what life would have been like in the juxtaposition of these two contrasting areas, each having its unique character. Simpson not only contributed to medical innovation and discovery but was also a a progressive in social attitudes with his town house at 52 Queen Street, Edinburgh being used as a medical practice accommodating the lower members of the then rigid social class structure as well as a gathering point for intellectuals. Together with medical innovation and social commentary another dominant theme of the book is gender and the very restrictive opportunities that were available to women of all classes at that time. This is conveyed through the character of Sarah a housemaid at the Simpson's home who despite her passion for medical learning is thwarted at every turn and is restricted to her domestic duties.
The main protagonist is Will Raven and the book commences just prior to his commencement of employment as an assistant to Professor Simpson with his discovery of the dead body of a woman he knew who worked as a prostitute in the Old Town. This would not be the only death that we encounter as the story evolves into a crime who done it and why. As is stated at the notes at the end of the book this will be the first in a series and I'm sure that if the standard is that of the original we can look forward to be similarly entertained and due to the fine level of research that has been undertaken equally educated.
A very interesting historical novel set in Edinburgh. A look at midwifery and the evolution of anaesthetics . The main story was also very good with robust characters and lots of mystery and mayhem.
I love historical novels and crime, so this book seemed ideal for my next read. It was! I loved it and the way the story worked it’s way through to a satisfying finale. I empathised particularly with Sarah the maid, who had more intelligence and common sense than many of the ‘men’ Doctors she has to support. Will definitely be looking for more by the author in the future.
A new historical / medical / romantic fiction series set in Victorian Edinburgh. It has it all!
A little slow to start but I was gradually drawn into the story. Suspicious deaths get our main character Raven to investigate. I did guess who the murderer was but enjoyed the way the plot gradually opened out. Interesting facts about the beginnings of anaesthesia, which I have no doubt are correct.
I did not realise that this was a collaboration between two authors. They work well together.
This was a terrific read, a historical novel set in Edinburgh, well researched and full of excitement. Will Raven, an aspiring young doctor, finds a friend of his dead. She is a prostitute, one he has known in the biblical sense in the past but now a friend who he has tried to help. When he finds that her death is not to be investigated he vows to find out what has been going on but in the meantime he has to avoid the thugs hired to beat him up by the moneylender he owes money to and to start an apprenticeship with the renowned Dr Simpson. He is joined in his endeavours by Sarah Fisher, Simpson's housemaid who is bright and resourceful and is ambitious in her own right. Together they track down the mysterious Madame Anjou who appears to be behind a number of unexplained deaths in the city. Ambrose Perry is a husband and wife team, Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman. Brookmyre is a renowned crime writer and Haetzman an anaesthetist who has studied the history of medicine in particular that of midwifery and anaesthesia. And what a gory history this is. This is to be the first in a series which follows Raven as he progresses in his career. I can't wait to read more. Thanks to Canongate and NetGalley for the ARC.
The Way of All Flesh is a historical novel that blends crime and medicine, showing the cutthroat world of scientific discovery and the dangerous situations of the poor of Victorian Edinburgh. Will Raven starts an apprenticeship with the renowned Dr Simpson, who alongside his patients is looking for discoveries in anaesthesia. In Simpson's house, Raven meets Sarah, a housemaid with an interest in medicine and an early dislike of Raven. Soon, they find themselves working together to uncover why young women keep turning up dead in the Old Town, deaths that seem to have some link to the medical world that Raven inhabits.
The novel is co-written by a crime writer and a consultant anaesthetist, giving it a thoroughly medical setting whilst weaving in mystery and money. The class elements are vital too: Edinburgh is divided and the characters cross between rich and poor areas. Raven finds himself confronted by the realities of the poor even as he deals with his own money troubles, with actions he thinks are helpful turning out to not be as well thought out. A lot of interesting elements are combined in the novel and the narrative has plenty of intrigue, though at times the pace is a little slow. Sarah is a great character, providing a reality check for Raven and also showing how intellect could only be valued if you were male and well off.
There have been a number of nineteenth-century historical novels set in Edinburgh featuring elements of crime and medicine released recently (including The Wages of Sin and The Pharmacist's Wife), but they all tend to have unique elements of focus or narrative. In the case of The Way of All Flesh, this is the quest for anaesthesia combined with the reality of hidden abortion, and the interesting way this intersects with gender and class in a historical context. This novel is definitely one for historical crime fans who aren't squeamish about medical stuff, and the fact it is the first in the series means there is likely to be plenty more to come.
Will Raven has just been appointed the apprentice of the renowned Dr Simpson; he hopes that his progression through the medical profession (and up the social ladder) will give him the opportunity to pay off a dangerous loan shark - one to whom he became indebted in order to help his friend and local prostitute, Evie, who is now suddenly, and inexplicably, dead.
In fact, there is a spate of young women dying in similar circumstances, and Raven's already complicated life is about to become even more so...
Sarah is a maid in the Simpson household, tasked with managing the doctor's waiting room in between her usual chores. She knows she's destined for greater work than changing bed sheets and serving tea, but Victorian Edinburgh is no place for ambitious, professional-minded women, and being taken seriously - particularly by the new apprentice, Raven - is a constant struggle.
The Way of All Flesh is a quick-paced, gritty mystery full of interesting characters, plots and historical fact. Ambrose Parry beautifully captures the atmosphere of 1800s Edinburgh, a city filled with shadows and secrets as well as the forefront of medical innovation and learning. I appreciated the research that had obviously gone into the book - and the fact that the authors and editors knew when the draw the line with facts vs fiction. After initially butting heads, it was fun watching Sarah and Raven's relationship develop, with plenty of grudging respect on both sides, and I'm looking forward to seeing the duo in future stories.
I chose to read this book because I studied the Social History of Medicine as part of my BA and I found the subject fascinating. This tale set in the first half of the 19th century in Edinburgh, the hotbed of medical research at the time, was well written with strong characters and a strong story line. I very much enjoyed the sometimes gory details of un-anaesthetised operations and the testing of ether and chloroform. I was also listening to Dickens's Oliver Twist at the same time I was reading this book and, although set ten years previously and several hundred miles south, the atmosphere and detail where similar. A great collaboration between the husband and wife team now known as Ambrose Parry. Highly recommended and I hope for more books about Will and Sarah.
Is there room for another Victorian era historical murder-mystery series? On the evidence of this first book from Ambrose Parry, there is definitely the makings of something special and a little bit different from the norm. Undoubtedly the reason for its success is in the authorship, 'Ambrose Parry' being a pseudonym for a writing team comprising of author Chris Brookmyre and medical historian Marisa Haetzman. The rationale behind the team-up, rather than the conventional route of an author relying on expert sources for specialised information, is that the book can enjoy the benefits of authentic detailed historical and medical knowledge of a fascinating period in the development of modern medical procedures and combine it with an established crime author's sense of plotting and pacing that can tie it into a thrilling murder-mystery.
One indication of the collaboration being seamless is that if I didn't know the Chris Brookmyre was involved in this book, I certainly wouldn't have guessed, even though The Way of All Flesh opens with the discovery of the gruesome murder of an Edinburgh Old Town prostitute by a figure with a little bit of moral ambiguity. Will Raven, a young medical student about to enter an apprenticeship with James Young Simpson, an eminent professor of midwifery, has previously consorted with Evie in a less than professional manner, but recently had been trying to help her out with money problems. The discovery of her death is a shock and he feels compelled to investigate further, but a man in his position can't be seen to have been associated with her. The loan however has caused Raven other problems, with vicious thugs now hounding him for repayment.
It's not the most auspicious way for Raven to enter the Simpson household, and it certainly doesn't impress Sarah, a housekeeper for Dr Simpson. Sarah helps out informally at the doctor's surgery, picking up useful information on ailments and treatments in the process, educating herself with books. Keenly intelligent, there is however no route for a young woman, particularly of her background, to enter the profession in 1847, so there is perhaps a little bit of resentment at this young man being given preferential treatment. That doesn't entirely account for Sarah's initial dislike of Raven however. She's sure he is not entirely who he claims to be and her keen eye quickly proves that she might have good grounds for suspicion.
What brings the two of them together - with despite their initial resentment of each other some not entirely unexpected attraction - are further reports of deaths of other young women in Edinburgh. There appears to be a connection between their backgrounds - prostitutes, servants - the possibility that they may have been pregnant, and the manner of their deaths suggesting poisoning. Sarah's background and position as a servant means that she can go to places without attracting attention, while Raven has recourse to investigation of some of the medical matters that the cases present. The sense of teamwork here, of each bringing a set of skills and knowledge to the table in a way reflects the working partnership of 'Ambrose Parry'. And in both aspects, it's clearly a relationship that works well.
It's by no means certain that the collaboration will work as The Way of All Flesh takes a little while to develop the central murder investigation. With much going on into the early research into anaesthesia in the 1840s - much of the development taking place in the medical world of Edinburgh - there is no shortage of incidents and descriptions of medical procedures, and no shortage of action in Raven's attempts to keep out of the hands of the criminal underworld. It's only in those more dangerous parts of town however that Raven will perhaps find the information he needs to identify who murdered Evie and the other girls, and why. That investigation takes a little while to find its feet, but the wait is more than worthwhile.
The Way of All Flesh is never anything less than fascinating for the background and historical detail that is provided into the medical world of Edinburgh around this time, and also for the colourful class, gender and social divisions that it highlights. With the medical procedures being primarily around childbirth, the murders all being young women, and with an indignant Sarah playing an important role in showing the prejudice and inequalities that abound in Victorian society, the issue of the treatment of women is very much to the fore. A little over-emphasised perhaps, but the slow build up pays off in how it gives the main characters of Sarah and Raven some depth, and how all these matters relate directly to crime in the city. This is a terrific start to a promising new series by a great 'new' author.
Really entertaining stuff- there is a whisp of freshness without its being anachronistic about these people - Raven is careful about sexism, for example, just part of his nature - and the prostitute's murder that sets the whole story off demonstrates this. By the time he meets up with his compatible, perfect partner, i was really sold on him, and then on the 'team'. Really adept and good characterisations - the story gets a bit contrived sometimes but it is credibly gruesome in the end - including its solution .i will look for more ..
*I somehow got a duplicate approval for this, adding duplicate review to clear*
This tale of murder takes place in mid 19th century Edinburgh, where the city is at the forefront of the world's advances in medicine - both medical practices and procedures and also drugs and anaesthetics. Many nights are spent with some of the city's top surgeons sitting round the dinner table in the post-prandial slumber sampling various substances looking to find the perfect anaesthetic.
Will Raven, a recently qualified doctor, starts a new job as apprentice to Edinburgh's pre-eminent midwifery expert, Dr James Young Simpson. But he has recently found the dead body of a female friend and starts to investigate the mysterious circumstances of her demise.
The book takes several strands: we have the true history of Edinburgh's medical revolution where doctors like Simpson vied to get the job done but also find better ways to do it for their patients, we have the murder mystery angle, we have the capable and frustrated women who are refused to even attempt to do jobs they are clearly able to do, and we have the class system in full evidence and while many go along with it, some people like Simpson try to get past this and make their households more inclusive for all.
The threads are all interwoven brilliantly and combine to give a story that is both thrilling and interesting.
Having read a lot of Chris Brookmyre, I had high expectations for his storytelling and these were more than met with a brilliantly paced and enjoyable page-turner. I believe writing with his wife has helped tone down the language a little and the tone of the dialogue is very different to his previous work.
My one gripe would be that the climax of the story was a little laboured, with every single event, decision and twist explained numerous times from different perspectives. Given I had spotted a number of hints quite early on and knew who the perpetrator was, and was happy to assume certain things had happened, I didn't feel the need to have this confirmed at length in great detail.
Otherwise an excellent book and the start of a new series that I will be avidly waiting for the next instalment of.
I wasn't too sure what to make of this book when I initially started to read it, but somehow it seemed to reel you in and it got more and more interesting until you didn't want to put the book down! Despite being a 'historical' setting, it made it very interesting to read and the characters were enjoyable too.
I am a big fan of darker historical fiction, and this certainly ticked all my boxes. It's always interesting to read something co-written and sometimes you can see the contrast between the two authors. This was executed wonderfully. An intriguing and compelling plot, with well fleshed out characters and exciting writing to match it all. Wonderful book.
What an exciting historical crime novel showing the progress of anaesthetics. It made enjoyable, addictive reading.
I was drawn to this book as Edinburgh is my home city and I spent my working life in medical research, and I wasn't disappointed. This tale of young Will Raven starting his medical career under the wing of the renowned Prof Simpson really paints a vivid picture of both Edinburgh ( the wealthy and the seedy!) ,the medical profession and the birth of obstetrics and anaesthesia in the mid 19th century. Some of the descriptions are somewhat harrowing, so perhaps not for the faint hearted. The introduction of Sarah, a housemaid with aspirations, gives more depth and I very much look forward to reading more about how their lives and aspirations develop.
Hungover, dazed, bruised and half naked in a strange bed how did she get there, Something bad happened but who was it. The police can't help, she needs to figure it out herself.
Clever and thoughtfully written book about an all too real problem with the system.
This lively historical whodunnit set in Edinburgh during the era when chloroform was invented is lots of gory fun with a pair of likeable protagonists and a cast of interesting secondary characters. Fans of Robert Louis Stevenson will be familiar with the fascinating disparity between the grim and seedy Old Town and the shiny veneer of the wealthy new town, often hiding equally sordid eneterprises!
I was pleased to find out this is the first in a series as it's not often you get to read a book which makes you laugh and grimace on the same page - definitely worth a try.
Well, what a gloriously fun romp that was! The writing was so sparky it could start bush fires and the characters were so multi-dimensional and brimming with verve they leapt off the page and did a jig in my living room. A cracking story to boot which combined historical fact with a nasty little mystery to absolutely barnstorming effect. An absolute joy basically. Very highly recommended.
I am a big Brookmyre/Parlabane fan so when I heard he had teamed up with his consultant anaesthetist wife to write a historical crime novel, I just knew I had to read it. Will fact and fiction combine to provide a readable, enjoyable piece of fiction? Will the writing partnership end in success or divorce? I'm please to answer both those questions in the positive as I blooming loved this book and, as it is a series opener, was left hanging for the next one.
Set in Edinburgh in 1847, we follow Will Raven as he starts his apprenticeship with well respected Dr Simpson. Actually, we start just before that as his interest in matters that subsequently unfold have connections to his medical student days. Anyway, Simpson's specialism is midwifery and he helps and assists with childbirth of women from all walks of life. He has a lot of success, some attributed to his use of the new medical practice of anaesthesia, still very much in its infancy and often lambasted by sceptics and shunned by the religious. But he has a good success with it and wants to explore the procedure further both alone and alongside other doctors. Will is an avid student, eager to please but he has a past, one that is slowly revealed through the book. But he is a bit cocky initially and has a tendency to rub people up the wrong way, Simpson's maid Sarah being one of those not convinced by his charms. The rest of the story is deliciously convoluted and involves death, charlatans, illegal surgery, money lending and prostitution, and a healthy dose of secrets and lies too. Far too much goes on to even start to explain any of it here so I am not going to even try. Suffice to say that I hung on every word, devoured every delicious description and reeled with shock at some that was described. I also laughed a bit along the way too. It's also deliciously gory in places, and hard hitting at times, as you would expect from Brookmyre.
I think I was with Sarah in her initial feelings for Will. It did take me a while to get to know him but I did get there and he grew on me nicely as more of his story was told. Sarah I loved from the start, can't help rooting for a woman trying to get ahead in a man's world! She's feisty and determined and she has a bit of a mouth on her, a bit outspoken to her betters, often to her detriment. But, she has her allies and she is eager to learn which interests certain characters.
If I had to make one comment though, it was that there were some times where the detail overshadowed the plot advancement for me. Obviously there is certain information that needs to be included for the whole thing to make sense but I felt, at times, it swung a little too far too long the wrong way for me. But, that said, it is a series opener and I am easily able to accept that information as set up, as I do with all first books, so it really didn't bother me that much. Obviously with the book set where and when it was, there has to be a certain amount of time and scene setting to deliver the ambience and the foundations for the plot. So be it. I also, willingly or otherwise, did learn quite a lot from this book and that's never a bad thing!
All in all a series that has definitely got off to cracking start. Roll on book two. My thanks go to the Publisher and Netgalley for the chance to read this book.
I’m not going to lie. I requested this book on Netgalley because I just could not stop staring at the gorgeous cover image. Look at it. Imagine that on the jacket of a cloth-bound hardback book, with embossed foil on the cloth. Imagine that on a paperback edition. It would be the aesthetic centrepiece of your bookshelf. Urgh. I am definitely judging this book by its cover and will have to sew my cash/cards/IOUs into my pockets at the end of the month when this little beauty hits the bookstores.
Thankfully, this baby is way more than an eye-catching cover.
Edinburgh is the perfect gothic setting for this creepy, troubling, unnerving historical mystery. Raven, an apprentice to the city’s most famous obstetrician, finds himself navigating the politics of the egos that accumulate around the burgeoning field of anaesthetics, all eager for their slice of the limelight, all forgetting, in their desire for glory, the patients on the receiving end. Raven is not all he seems and appears determined to hide the truth of himself from even the reader. Sarah, Dr Simpson’s housemaid, is feisty, intelligent and doesn’t take nonsense from anyone, even at the risk of being outspoken and ‘having ideas abover her station’. Not content to accept her position as ‘just a housemaid’, she sets out to show the men that they don’t have the intellectual monopoly.
Women are being found dead, frozen in agonisingly contorted positions, and both Sarah and Raven each know someone who has suffered this mysterious affliction. Both have a burning desire to get to the bottom of it before any more women are found twisted and stiff.
This fantastic novel is inspired by very real medical history, which is revealed in the Q&A section at the end of the book, where the two writers who have collaborated to become Ambrose Parry share the novel’s background. I never read the stuff at the end of a book, so the fact that this Q&A section grabbed my attention speaks volumes.
I thoroughly recommend this book. I am so excited it’s the first of a series which will see more gothic Edinburgh medical adventures in Dr Simpson’s less-than-conventional household. If they all have covers as gorgeous this book, I’ll have a beautiful boxset on my bookshelf … and a depleted bank balance!
This book makes you travel back in time to a Victorian Scotland and a Mr Raven apprentice to a well known respected midwife Mr Simpson. There is a death, an owed debt and a history that travels with Raven which we see slowly unravel throughout the book. Upon starting his apprenticeship we meet the rest of the Simpson household including his maid Sarah who plays a role in the way the story was played out. I loved the relationship between her and Raven. That she was more than a housemaid and her employer indulged her curiosity. The story a classic who submit with its twists and turns that leave you guessing until the very end. I enjoyed the book immensely and am definitely eager to read more.hearing this is to be a series is brilliant!
This is a deliciously atmospheric piece of historical crime fiction from the husband and wife authors, Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman, set in Victorian Edinburgh, a city split between the poverty stricken and dark underbelly of the Old Town and the more genteel wealthy households of New Town. This is a story about Edinburgh's heyday as the prominent player in its contributions towards the progress of medicine intertwined with the murder of young women, prostitutes, deemed to be of little consequence, unworthy of any real investigation. It is 1847, a penniless and indebted Will Raven has secured a much sought after apprentice position with the well known Dr Simpson, specialising in midwifery and anaesthesia. Shocked after stumbling on the dead body of his friend, Evie, a prostitute, he is badly beaten and cut by the thugs of a moneylender when he arrives to live at the Simpson household. Needless to say, he makes a poor impression on some members of the household that include the young resentful Sarah Fisher, a bright and intelligent housemaid with aspirations for a career in medicine that is denied to her by society's misogyny and her poverty.
Edinburgh abounds with quacks, charlatans and snake oil salesman willing to peddle their dangerous practices and wares on a desperate public. Amidst the medical community there are daring experiments run by men, often ruthless and arrogant, brutal and uncaring of the people they experiment on. Driven by a need to acquire wealth and build their reputations, it is barely surprising that so many are corrupted by their power over ordinary mortal souls with nowhere else to go. In that respect, Raven is fortunate that Simpson is driven by the need to improve the gruesome medical practices in midwifery and to alleviate the unspeakable pain experienced by women in childbirth. We see the good doctor discover and implement the use of chloroform in the profession. Many doctors believe that it is natural for the patient to experience pain and it goes against nature to provide pain relief. I believe their beliefs would shift remarkably quickly if they were the ones on the receiving end of their brutal and excruciating practices. Then there are the male religious voices, claiming that God wants women to undergo painful childbirth and to provide an anaesthetic is to go against God. Sarah and Raven overcome their initial difficulties to join forces to investigate who is behind the growing number of dead women when no-one else will, only to find themselves in deadly danger.
The authors give us an atmospheric and richly described picture of the dark arts and science behind the breakthroughs made in 19th century Edinburgh amidst a background of a medical profession that was not always keen to adhere to the best interests of their patients. We are not spared the gruesome horrors of what people had to undergo in the hands of these powerful doctors, this includes the malignant abortionists taking advantage of poorer women with impunity. Sarah and Mina, whilst on different ends of the social strata, nevertheless epitomise just how powerless women were in their inability to choose their path in life, or even have control over their bodies. This novel does a brilliant job in providing such a great sense of time and location, giving an authentic glimpse of the state of medicine in the period, with all the tension and suspense of murder. The characterisation and development of Will Raven and Sarah Fisher was done well and with great skill as I found both of them utterly compelling as people. I look forward with great anticipation for the next in this series. Highly recommended! Many thanks to Canongate for an ARC.
What a great read - this book was so much more than a murder mystery. As well as the "who dun it" aspect it was a really good bit of social history on so many levels - social class, the history of medicine (with a few gruesome details about childbirth at the time), the role of women in society, to name but a few. I understand that this is the first in a series involving the characters we met here. I can't wait for the next instalment.