Edinburgh, 1847. Will Raven is a medical student, apprenticing for the brilliant and renowned Dr Simpson. Sarah Fisher is Simpson’s housemaid, and has all of Raven’s intelligence but none of his privileges. As bodies begin to appear across the Old Town, Raven and Sarah find themselves propelled headlong into the darkest shadows of Edinburgh’s underworld. And if either of them are to make it out alive, they will have to work together to find out who’s responsible for the gruesome deaths.
The Way of All Flesh was published on the 2nd May 2019 by Canongate. Many thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Through My Letterbox for inviting me to participate in this blog tour and to the publisher for my copy of the book for the review.
The Way of All Flesh is the first in a series of historical crime novels from bestselling author Chris Brookmyre and consultant anaesthetist Dr Marisa Haetzman with ‘Ambrose Parry’ being their pseudonym .
“No decent story ought to begin with a dead prostitute, and for that, apologies, for it is not something upon which respectable persons would desire to dwell.”
What a way to open the book….and this sets the scene for the rest of the book, both in subject as well as the overall tone of the narrative. Set in Edinburgh in the 1840’s, The Way of All Flesh takes its reader to a very different time which is reflected through the language. The authors have done an amazing job with the writing style as, throughout the book, it is clear that it is set in a different century in terms of the way the characters speak as well as the choice of words. I’ll be honest, it did slow my reading down but I’m not used to historical novels as its a genre I enjoy but read infrequently. The slower reading was a good thing as it meant I really got involved in the narrative and felt transported to 19th century Edinburgh.
There are a number of characters throughout this book, some very undesirable ones at that!, but the main characters are Will Raven, medical student and apprentice to the renowned and widely respected Dr Simpson, alongside Sarah Fisher. For me, Sarah was the stand out character as she was ahead of her time and had a drive that many women didn’t have (or allowed to have!) at this point in history. Officially Sarah worked as housemaid for Dr Simpson however she was getting more and more involved in his work and the clinics that he ran.
In the opening of the book, it is Will who finds the dead prostitute, Evie, and is suspicious in the way in which she died from the positioning of her lifeless body. Whilst Will had paid Evie for her services in the past, they had also become friends so Will knew that she had money worries…was it as simple that Evie died in unsuspicious circumstances or was something more sinister afoot? When more women die, Will starts to conduct some investigations of his own.
What I found absolutely fascinating, aside from the story line, was the realities of medicine during this period, particular the extremes that some women had to go through in childbirth. I discovered after reading the book is that it contains real life characters and events (which further adds to the authenticity of the narrative) such as Dr James Simpson, pioneer of chloroform and the invention of anaesthesia and its early use in obstetric procedures.
Whilst this book took me out of my comfort zone of reading, I enjoyed both the writing style and plot, I look forward to finding out what Ambrose Parry has planned for the next book, The Art of Dying, which is due to be published in August 2019.
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 over twenty novels, including Black Widow, winner of both the Theakston 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 is the first book in the series.