This Edinburgh set Victorian crime novel (not to be confused with the classic novel by Samuel Butler with the same title which was very much a reaction against Victorianism) is the first collaboration between husband and wife anaesthesia expert Marisa Haetzman and crime novelist Chris Brookmyre, (he has some 23 novels to date none of which I have read) written under the pen name Ambrose Parry.
Chris has never before written a novel set in the past but with Marisa’s knowledge of the history of medicine and especially the development of anaesthetics which has a significant part to play in this they have produced a thoroughly entertaining joint effort, a good slab of historical crime fiction, the first in a proposed new series.
There are two very good main characters here. Will Raven has a background from the tougher parts of Edinburgh Old Town and the night before he begins an apprenticeship with esteemed childbirth specialist Dr Simpson he encounters a corpse and is beaten and badly cut up giving him both a disreputable appearance and rendering him a marked man in his new environment of the respectable New Town. Simpson’s housemaid Sarah, fascinated by the medical goings on in the house is held back because of Victorian society’s view of women and the two are forced by circumstances to come together to investigate agonising deaths of young women from both sides of town.
Alongside the involving plot we have the growth of the use of ether in routine procedures and the search for more effective and safer methods to sedate patients. The medical history aspect is inserted seamlessly into the plot and adds much to the enjoyment of the novel.
I felt that the Edinburgh location with its split personality of the poverty- stricken Old Town and the comparative grandeur of the New is very effective, especially with childbirth happening in both areas causing the medical men to adapt to all kinds of patient. Plot-wise I thought I had worked out what was going on but I hadn’t. The twists did surprise me. I would certainly be on the lookout for future collaborations as well as digging into the sizeable Brookmyre back catalogue.
The Way Of All Flesh was published by Canongate in August 2018. Many thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for the review copy.