Review of ‘The Way of All Flesh’ by Ambrose Parry

An atmospheric historical crime novel from Chris Brookmyre and his wife Marisa Haetzman, a consultant anaesthetist and researcher of the history of medicine. Not to be confused with the book of the same name by Samuel Butler.

Set in Edinburgh, 1847, the story follows doctor’s apprentice Will Raven and housemaid Sarah Fisher as they investigate the links between the suspicious deaths of women who may have had abortions. Much of the story is occupied with the medical community and debates around the use of anaesthetics; ether and the new discovery, chloroform. The characters of Will and Sarah have their own arcs, too, with Will’s dark past explored and Sarah’s anger at her medical ambitions not being taken seriously. I enjoyed the setting and the historical details very much. I could see everything as if it were a TV drama. The plot seemed to move slowly, however, and I became impatient with it. I found the writing style frustrating as it was very wordy, probably attempting to mirror the fiction of that era, but I found it somewhat pompous.

I liked this book, yet I’m not sure I’ll check out the sequels.

First published in 2018 by Canongate.

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