Today it’s a bit of an unusual situation as both Mandie and I will be sharing our thoughts on The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry. My thanks go to Anne Cater for inviting us to join the tour. This is a book we were both excited to read but before we share our thoughts, here is what the book is all about:
About The Book
LONGLISTED FOR THEAKSTON OLD PECULIER CRIME NOVEL OF THE YEAR
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.Available from Amazon | Kobo | Waterstones | Playstore | iBooks
The Way of All Flesh has been on my TBR piles ever since I attended a book festival and listened to the authors discuss how it came to be and all that went into it. Having finally got round to reading it I know that it was worth waiting for.
Raven certainly grew on me over the course of the book. I loved the different nicknames he gave to people that quite often related to a physical attribute they possessed. He was hiding secrets to his past from others, and himself from lenders that who were after their money or his blood and didn’t seem too fussed which one they ended up with. This kind of made him appear to be a bit standoffish especially with those who he believed to be beneath him. His saving grace was that he was determined to find out what happened to a local prostitute who he had become friendly with. As his investigations into her death progressed he slowly began to take maid Sarah into his confidence. Their constant interactions even when he didn’t really welcome them slowly changed his character.
Sarah was a character that was stifled by the era she lived in. Helping out the doctor whose household she worked for, she had a naturally inquisitive mind and would have dearly loved to have been more involved in patient care or medicine but unfortunately she had one thing going against her…. She was a woman. Despite initially taking a dislike to Raven, her natural inquisitiveness meant that she was soon helping him. By the end of the book I wouldn’t say that she liked him, but she certainly had a better understanding of him and what he was really like. The book really is right up my street, mixing historical facts with a bit of humour and mystery. I will admit that I did have to check that it was ok to find bits of it funny as I am known to have a very odd sense of humour and will often be found chuckling at gruesome bits.
There were some medical procedures though that even had me cringing and I don’t remember reading about them as I studied medicine through the ages at school many moons ago. I am also relieved that childbirth and complications surrounding it are managed vastly differently in the modern era. This husband and wife writing team have produced a real winner of a book in my opinion as you can’t help but get caught up in Raven’s life and I look forward to the next instalment to see what lies ahead for Raven and Sarah.
I will admit that it’s been a long while since I read this book, and I reviewed it last year, so if you want to read my full review, you can find it here. As I’ve said before (and Mandie has also said above) this is the kind of book, historical fiction, that would normally be more of Mandie’s thing than mine, but the whole story intrigued me and after hearing a reading from the book, I was even more excited to tuck in.
This novel is a brilliant blend of historical fiction, crime thriller and character study. You are able to immerse yourself in true Edinburgh history, the authors research, including into the work of Dr James Simpson, shining through in the narrative, bringing the whole story to life. But you also have a touch of the fictional flair, introducing us to characters who, whilst perhaps not real or perhaps not wholly historically accurate, engage you as a reader very quickly, and draw you into the story.
Will Raven … Well, initially I thought he was a bit of a prat, but in reality he is very typical of the young men of his era, especially given that he has to work harder than some to find his place in a very highly regarded, but naturally wealthy field such as medicine. The more I learned about him, the more he grew on me, but you do have to embrace his early arrogance and laugh at some of the less than gentlemanly situations he finds himself in. As for Sarah Fisher, the maid-come-assistant who works for the Will and Dr Simpson, she is a woman far ahead of her time. Fiercely independent and determined, she has a presence of mind that surpasses her male counterparts, even the Doctors at times, and yet none of the advantages are offered to her due simply to the very fact of her status and her gender. A sad but all too true story in itself. Together they are a perfect pairing, Sarah’s common sense taking over where Will’s is lacking, but Will’s position and own determination to do right allowing him access to information that Sarah would never be privy to. A formidable team.
As for the story, it’s a sad and sometimes harrowing tale, but all too believable. Full of tension and misdirection, it had me guessing and second guessing throughout and kept my attention rapt from the off. The language feels natural and of the time, but also very much of the present, meaning that in spite of all the medical speak and the early 20th century sensibilities it is accessible for all readers. Full of thrills and breath stealing moments but more a Scottish Medicinal Downton Abbey than a stuffy old Pride and Prejudice. All in all it was a brilliant story, made all the more perfect by likeable and relatable characters who I cannot wait to hear more from. Thankfully, with book two, The Art of Dying, out in August, I won’t have to wait long!
About the Authors
Chris Brookmyre is an international bestselling and multi-award-winning author whose books have sold over one million copies. Marisa Haetzman is a consultant anaesthetist of 20 years’ experience, with a Master’s in the history of Medicine which formed the research for this book.
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