Lead Review (The Way of All Flesh)
- Book: The Way of All Flesh
- Location: Edinburgh
- Author: Ambrose Parry
“…Edinburgh, the city who crest ought to be the head of the Janus: one face for polite society, another behind closed doors.”
Ambrose Parry is the pen name of author Chris Brookmyre and his wife, Dr Marisa Haetzman, a consultant anaesthetist. The Way of All Flesh is the first in a series of books detailing historic Edinburgh, with a medical theme, laced with murder, at the heart.
Will Raven is apprenticed to Dr Simpson and lives in his household. Sarah is a young maid who has a clear head and talent for managing medical matters but in 1847, when the novel is set, women were not able to practise medicine and thus she had to content herself with managing minor medical issues when the doctors of the house were unavailable. One might forget that in this period, women were still very much seen as second class citizens.
A series of murders perpetrated against working girls, both prostitutes and maids, is very close to home. These are women of lowly status, little note is taken of any criminal assault – even if it is murder. It would appear that some died because of medication they had taken to address their unwanted pregnancies, leaving them to die the most horrible deaths. Raven and Sarah have bonded together to get to the bottom of the murders.
The time and place and the medical practices of the period have clearly been well researched, no surprise given the pedigree of the authoring duo. The Old Town is shrouded in mist, rife with rank smells and dirt and violence, populated by a mêlée of people drinking and eking out a living in very fraught circumstances. Societal mores and medical practises, often barbaric, are graphically conjured up as Simpson and Raven work at home and move around the city attending to patients. The novel is full of interesting detail – the medical profession was experimenting haphazardly at the time with ether to alleviate the pain of childbirth but there was strong objection to its use in some quarters of the religious establishment.
Overall an interesting sortie into Victorian Edinburgh in the capable hands of Ambrose Parry.