Title: The Way of All Flesh
Author: Ambrose Parry
E.S.C.A.P.E Score: 43
(see breakdown below)
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 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.
Content Warnings: This book is set in and around Edinburgh Medical School in 1847, following an apprentice midwife. Therefore, it may not be the book for you if your are not comfortable with detailed description of medical procedures, particularly surgeries without anaesthesia and complications within births, abortions and other aspects pertaining to 19th century midwifery.
Ambrose Parry is the new Pen-name of Scottish Crime author Christopher Brookmyre and his wife, Marisa Haetzman, who is an anaesthetist with an MSc in Medical History. I have always enjoyed Brookmyre’s work. He has always been one of my go to writers since I first discovered him. Form the opening scene it is very much a Brookmyre book. He has a very distinctive writing style and has a use of language that I particularly like. The use of language to show the disparities between Edinburgh’s old town and new town (new town being the more affluent area ) was particularly interesting.
I feel I am drawn to this book as it takes place in my home town, with scenes taking place just around the corner from my front door in Edinburgh. I am familiar with the history of the city and this book just captured my imagination of how the city would have felt like in the 19th Century. The dark twisting close-nit closes of the old town, the streets piled on top of each other on Cowgate and Grassmarket just lends its self to the dark underworld of this novel, while it is flanked by the affluent townhouses of the New town and the vast collection of university buildings.
The plot it’s self is somewhat predictable I had successfully guessed the killer within the first quarter of the story. However, that did not make it any less enjoyable. Marisa Haetzman’s contribution was most definitely rooted within the historical accuracy of Edinburgh medical history. I am not usually one for historical fiction but this was definitely a hit. To me this was the most interesting parts of the book. The aspects revolving around Edinburgh Medical School, which at the time was at the forefront of medical advancement and the work of Dr Simpson were woven so seamlessly into plot. Even including the Great Disruption and formation of the Free Church of Scotland with their opposition to Dr Simpsons use of anaesthesia gave such an authenticity to the story.
As usual to Brookmyre’s previous work it is his female characters that shine above the men. His women tend to be strong, knowledgeable and determined and the female lead of Sarah, Dr Simpson’s housemaid, was no different. She is ambitious and sincere, determined to overcome her lot in the world despite the prejudiced of the time. His male characters on the other hand tend to be more fallible and unlikable with very little redemption, this is true of Will Raven, Dr Simpson’s new apprentice and ‘hero’ of our tale. Raven is honestly is a very weakly developed character that I really couldn’t care about. The side character’s were also somewhat underdeveloped. I found myself wanting to know more of Dr Simpson and his whole household, including his various medical colleagues but they were not developed more than to discuss the historical development of anaesthetics. We also got introduced to a number of personalities in Edinburgh’s underworld but they were just the tiny aspects of the story. Possibly this is a set up to a continuing series where they will get time to shine?
Overall, the ending was satisfactory with some hints of dark humour to leave you with a chuckle. While it seemed to wrap up nicely I do feel there could be potential for continuation of investigations on Edinburgh’s streets. The nice thing about this book is it really did prompt me to do more reading into the historical characters of Dr Simpson, Dr Matthew Duncan and Dr Syme. A book that peeks your interest in previously unknown areas is always welcome. If this is an ongoing series I think we are in store for some fun, especially if it keeps focusing on the History of Edinburgh medical school. I would love someone to tackle the Edinburgh Seven (the first females to be educated as doctors at the medical school in 1869) and I think this could be the writing duo to do it.
ENDING – 7
STYLE AND PACE OF WRITING – 8
CHARACTERS – 6
ATMOSPHERE AND WORLDBUILDING – 8
PLOT – 7
ENJOYMENT – 7
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