The Way of All Flesh
dinburgh, 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.
Reviewed on 13th September 2020
I was a bit trepidatious picking up this book. I’m late to the party - having only recently wondered why Chris Brookmyre’s output appeared to have slowed, only to discover from searching online that it’s because he’s been collaborating under the Ambrose Parry name. So having enjoyed his previous works, I was nervous about entering this new world and about whether I would like what I found.
I was in luck - this is an excellent book. Set in Victorian Edinburgh, it follows a young medical apprentice, and the clearly under-utilised genius employed as his mentor’s housemaid. It opens very historically, setting the scene of the time and place, the characters, and their various ‘stations’ and ranks in this society. The structure reminds me a little of fantasy fiction, in doing a decent amount of world building with the opening chapters.
To be honest it could have just been left there - I was hooked by the world and the history and the medicine - the plot almost felt an unnecessary distraction from the rich and thoroughly-researched detail. But arrive the plot did, and it too is a cracker - tying together the era, the characters, and a solid look at key social issues of the time (which while they should be ‘of the time’, and still somehow prescient today).
While some of the medical details were a little more vividly described than I would have appreciated, this realism feels fairly necessary to understanding some of what the book is trying to tell.
Easily one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I can’t wait to pick up the sequel and consume more in a similar vein. I’m glad I found it.