• Keely B

The Way Of All Flesh

A great little crime story with tons of history into the bargain...

I just learned a lot about the origins of pain relief!

This is a beautifully crafted novel, jam-packed with content and lovely humorous moments with two very likeable protagonists and a suitable number of dodgy ones.

The pacing and structure are excellent, very deft with some rather subtle red herrings and a couple of loose ends not tied up in the hope that we will indeed be revisiting the Edinburgh streets of the 1840s in the near future.

Sarah and Will have quite a healthy dislike of each other on first meeting and this lasts well into the novel until circumstances prevail upon them to trust each other. There then follows a slow and steady developing of their relationship which is both amusing and charming.

Together with very evocative snapshots of the medical profession in the nineteenth century, some utterly heart-breaking, there are regular references to the standing of women in 1800s Britain - Sarah’s intellect and character being overlooked on numerous occasions just for ‘being female’ is the most grating.  These frustrations remind us of many things we take for granted today.  She is a fine example of a person who loves to learn, is curious about everything and knows what she wants, if only she was allowed to go after it.

Not knowing who Ambrose Parry was before reading, I assumed he had been brought up with some very impressive female role models: thanks to an enjoyable question and answer at the end of the book I now know that Ambrose Parry is the writing name of Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman which explains how they got the balance of male and female voices so pitch perfect.

The amount of factual content about what life was like at the time is impressive, especially with regards to anaesthesia, unsurprisingly considering Marisa’s background.  But it never overpowers the narrative.  Often if an author is an expert on something, we get a glut of facts and descriptions of techniques, people and places in a richness far beyond what we, outside a profession, can cope with and it ends up taking you out of the story as you figure out the dense text.  Not in ‘The Way Of All Flesh’.  The authors have weaved their knowledge across the length of the story with an appreciated lightness of touch, making this so very easy to read.

‘Sarah heard a whistle carried on the wind, and in the middle distance she could see steam rising from the new North Bridge station.  The sight of clouds rising from below rather than floating up above was one she might be a long time getting used to.

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