August is running away with us again but thankfully for me it has been a summer of reading. I literally haven’t stopped. I even ran out of books on my holiday – thank goodness the hotel had a bookshelf completely filled by the guests.
I did promise to catch up with blog posts from the past few months and today is the first. I read The Way of all Flesh in May. I’d chose it for the Waterstones Book of the Month and it did not disappoint. Time to share my review with you all but without any spoilers. You’ll just have to read it to find out more! I hope you enjoy it.
What’s it all about?
Set and beginning in 1847 Edinburgh, Raven, a young and aspiring student doctor, is living in a less than desirable part of time. He discovers a friend, a lady of the night, is dead. At the same time, Raven is also being pursued for money by the local underworld, a Mr Flint. Previously, Raven borrowed the money to give to his now dead prostitute friend. It was never disclosed as to why she needed it.
Following a good beating in the street for failing to pay Mr Flint back, Raven arrives at the house and surgery of Dr Simpson, a wealth medical man with an excellent reputation. Despite Raven’s battered face, he is taken on as an apprentice which also provides him with the perfect opportunity to leave his lodgings and the insalubrious Old Town area. Naturally, this also could mean that Mr Flint’s debt collectors would be left behind too.
“He hoped the Simpson family appreciated how privileged they were to live in this place, safe not only from cold and hunger, but from the world of danger, anxiety and suspicion that he had grown used to.”
In his new lodgings Raven doesn’t quite have the best start with Sarah, a housemaid with a keen and unusual interest in medicine. She is a product of her time however, she has a wealth of experience in dealing with patients. Raven, initially makes himself look like a complete fool in front of her, alienating her at the same time. To make matters worse, Sarah discovers that all is not what it seems with regard to his deeply hidden past. There is a secret lurking deep beneath the surface…
Over a period of time within this incredible house, he is introduced to a number of other doctors, both established and new to the profession. At this time medicine is a frontier science and people were daily making new discoveries. After dinner, a common pastime was to imbibe new and untested chemical mixtures in order to see if they made a good anaesthetic.
“She found Raven, crouched over Dr Simpson, who lay face-down upon the floor. The bodies of Dr Keith and Captain Petrie motionless alongside. “He breathes” he announced.”
Raven makes a new acquaintance, John Beattie, who invites Raven to accompany him on a house visit. He needs Raven to assist whilst he performs a simple operation. Hoping that he will be paid well, Raven agrees. (This was how doctors made their money in 1847!) Unfortunately, the operation goes badly wrong and Raven is left believing that he is responsible for the death of the patient by mis-administering the ether.
Over time and throughout his duties, Raven has become deeply suspicious about a similar death to the one at the beginning of the novel. The way in which the body is contorted is identical and he begin to suspects foul play. Matters just are not adding up correctly in his mind. As a result, he decides to investigate these matters further. As the story unfolds, Raven makes an unlikely ally who helps him to research these deaths. They begin to discover and uncover a series of similar cases. Raven sets a trap, which fails… and the rest is for you to find out for yourselves!
The novel finishes with an array of events – good and bad – that shed new light on each of the characters. As suspected, no one can be trusted and no one is really who they say they are.
“As he stepped through the front door, the coat swirling about him like a cloak, a number of disparate fragments swirling at the forefront of his thoughts coalesced at once into a visible whole.”
This novel contains everything you want from a good book – murder, misadventure, tension, drama. It is packed! The pace is relentless and so it naturally becomes one of those ‘unputdownable’ reads. The time period of the 1840s appeals to me and it was fascinating to see this perspective of Edinburgh. I can’t wait to read the next book by Ambrose Parry – The Art of Dying. I expect it will contain the same trails and tribulations as this novel. Let me know if you’ve read it and your thoughts.
Enjoy the rest of August!! See you next time.
Big love xx