The Way of All Flesh
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.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Author: Ambrose Parry
(Ambrose Parry is a pseudonym for bestselling author Chris Brookmyre and his wife Dr. Marisa Haetzman, a consultant anaesthetist.)
Hardcover, 416 pages
Expected publication: October 2nd 2018
Publishing house: Canongate Books
(photo credit: WOOD LIBRARY-MUSEUM of ANESTHESIOLOGY )
Tantalizing • Eerie • Magnificent
“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. “
- Ambrose Parry
Think about that title! THE WAY OF ALL FLESH. What is the way of all flesh? Is there a commonality in the behavior of all flesh? Is it a reaction of all flesh? Is it the growth or decomposition of all flesh? Or is it merely the greed of those with flesh? As I was reading this novel, it made me think more and more how powerful of a title this really is.
“That was Edinburgh for you: public decorum and private sin, city of a thousand secret selves”
Will Raven, medical student, finds a prostitute friend dead in her place in a mangled, aggravated position telling of a gruesome death. As some say, she was just another “deid hoor”, however Raven keeps thinking there has to be more to this case.
Sarah Fisher, the house maid of Dr. Simpson, also helps out in the practice waiting room. The daily cases include consumption, ringworm, scabies, coughing, fevers etc. and the waiting area is always packed. Sarah is fascinated in medicine, but her place in society leave her but poor without opportunities. Luckily for her, she has access to medical journals and textbooks, so she studies on her own. Her interest lies in the idea of compounds of certain chemicals to aid in surgeries. The common practice at the current time is the use of ether.
(photo credit: The Old Operating Theater )
Raven’s cases involve mostly the use of ether in childbirth. Often in those days, there weren’t many options when complications arose, and mother and or child were lost. The alleviation of all pain and suffering seemed a lofty ambition. One Raven isn’t sure if it is possible.
‘In such circumstances, we can save the life of the mother by sacrificing that of her pregnancy. By opening the head of the infant by means of perforating instruments, we can remove the contents of the cranium and then break down the vault of the skull, bringing away the fragments until only the base of the cranium and the bones of the face remain to be extracted by means of the crochet. “
Reverend Grissom from a local church is campaigning against the use of ether in childbirth. He believes the Bible verse: “in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children” and is advocating against the practice of ether.
This novel explores themes of money, social status and ethical questions or beliefs, as well as the abuse of those in the advancements of medicine. Chloroform is the next great discovery in the aid of anesthetizing patients. An area that Raven is in the beginnings of exploration.
(photo credit: The Old Operating Theater )
Many woman ‘afflicted’ with pregnancy resort to suicide or to the “relief of obstruction” (the unborn child), often with the risk of of death. There is word on the streets, that a midwife from Paris is selling pills to do just that without the aid of knitting needles. The added numbers of dead bodies of woman found around town and the body parts of infants rotting in canals, challenge Raven to do his own investigations.
Will Raven with the help of Sarah be able to sort through government corruptions and disguises? How about those brutes he still owes some money too? How close will he come to losing his career?
This novel has that gothic feel….foggy cobblestone streets, low lighted streetlamps, and ale and pleasure houses. Very atmospheric.
The thematic is interesting and gruesome at the same time. 19th century medicine made leaps and grave missteps in its development of anesthetics. These early practices were cutting edge at the time in a field mainly destined for male practitioners. A slice or division of the cultural and socioeconomic picture in the plot shows the role of woman at that time. Wrapped into a mystery, this historical fiction novel is a page turner with respect. It is just a snippet into the darker side of medicine and early practices in surgery and childbirth. I want to say that I am glad to not have lived through those crude beginnings, yet my knowledge interjects this thought. There are still new advancements with experiments being made today just at a much grander scale and level (of terrifying).
Fall is a great time to read book 1 of this series. It simply complements this atmospheric novel perfectly.