The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry reviewed

The Way of All Flesh Book Cover The Way of All Flesh
Ambrose Parry
Historical Fiction
May 02, 2019

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.

Historical fiction is something I only read from time to time.  However I’d seen a few good reviews for this and one half of the writing team is Christopher Brookmyre a favourite author of mine.  The other part of the team is apparently his wife, a consultant anaesthetist, who brings her obviously extensive medical knowledge into play here.  The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry focusses strongly on medicine, the medical profession and their quests for improved treatment.  Some of the practices are rather barbaric and quite graphic however it also feels authentic.

I found the opening wonderfully atmospheric creating a feel for an Edinburgh  around 1850. Death is commonplace and doctors are an established if somewhat experimental part of society.  Raven, an aspiring medic, finds a dead body, female, who is someone he has “known” in the past.  Afraid he may be accused of her murder he flees the scene but worries about how she may have died. This leads to the book’s leitmotif of “another deid hoor”.

Raven, in the employ of an established doctor, finds his interest in what happened to his friend  is a subject shared by another member of the household.  Sarah, a maid, would far rather spend time dealing with patients and learning from doctors.  She also had a friend who has died in an apparently similar way to Raven’s.  The Way of All Flesh follows their attempts to investigate the deaths.

The book manages to bring out both the darkness of the time and the rawness of the lives of many.  I did find the lightness of touch and slight humour here good and typical of Brookmyre’s other books.  It really was a highly entertaining read.  I enjoyed the characters of Raven and Sarah and their quest for the truth about what is going on in the backstreets of Edinburgh.  The pace was good and the at times graphic feel of the era was vivid.  Happily recommended to fans of historical fiction of this general sort.

Note – I received an advance digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review