The Way of All Flesh…
About the Book:
A vivid and gripping historical crime novel set in 19th century Edinburgh, from husband-and-wife writing team Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman.
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.
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.
‘That was Edinburgh for you: public decorum and private sin, city of a thousand secret selves.’
The Way of All Flesh is a dark journey down into the depths of Victorian Edinburgh, back to the beginnings of surgery and obstetrics, when anaesthetic was only just in its infancy. This is a novel that traverses a grim and often macabre path, but always an historically accurate one. This is pre-caesarean days as well, and the main character is apprenticed as an obstetrician, so we are privy to some distressing childbirth practices. While this novel is most definitely not for the feint hearted, I absolutely loved it, even if it did make me cringe and squirm on more than one occasion. There is just so much in it history lovers, particularly of the Victorian era, will appreciate. The sense of being on the cusp of discovery, with more humane surgical practices just within reach, is richly explored. The entire novel beats with atmosphere and the characterisation is precise.
Raven and Sarah, our two main characters, have an interesting dynamic between them that flexes throughout the novel, changing as they each learn more about the other. Raven is not entirely who he says he is, presenting himself as a young man of the right class for entering a career in medicine, but Sarah is having none of it. She sees right through him from the start, and while her instincts are correct, her judgement of him is off base. Raven embodies the definition of a doctor who wants to improve the lives of his patients. While his personal history may be checkered, his motivations are pure. Sarah herself was a wonderfully drawn woman, condemned by her sex and class into a life of servitude, but Dr Simpson, her employer, sees her intelligence, her natural ability with pharmaceuticals, and tries his best to nurture this despite her station. Mixed in with the medical history, the crime and mystery, is a skilfully rendered story about the many challenges women faced in Victorian times.
‘Sarah occasionally amused herself by dwelling on the notion of herself as a student: what her days would have been like and which subjects she might have liked to study. She had an interest in botany and horticulture, as well as in the traditional healing arts, inherited from her family background. Any time spent in the professor’s study caused her to marvel at all of the myriad disciplines and fields of knowledge one might explore, and the idea of spending whole years doing precisely that seemed heavenly. However, this was a distraction that came at a price, for although it was pleasant to indulge such fantasies, they also forced her to confront the harsh truth. She had not the means to attend university nor any prospect of ever acquiring them. Being female was also an obstacle that she could not easily overcome.’
The Way of All Flesh is a brilliant novel of historical fiction, the kind that entertains as much as it informs. While I solved the crime before the characters did – a rare occurrence for me – the execution of the mystery was cleverly done. I will be forever thankful that obstetrics has progressed so far from Victorian times, and truly, any woman who has given birth who reads this novel will feel the same! I highly recommend The Way of All Flesh and look forward to reading more from Ambrose Parry.
Thanks is extended to Allen and Unwin for providing me with a copy of The Way of All Flesh for review.
About the Author:
Ambrose Parry is a pseudonym for a collaboration between Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman. The couple are married and live in Scotland. Chris Brookmyre is the international bestselling and multi-award-winning author of twenty-one novels, including Black Widow, winner of both the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year and the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year. Dr Marisa Haetzman is a consultant anaesthetist of twenty years’ experience, whose research for her Master’s degree in the History of Medicine uncovered the material upon which this novel was based.
The Way of All Flesh
Published by A&U Canongate
Released on 1st October 2018