The One with the Impact of Chloroform

Ambrose Parry, The Way of All Flesh (2018)

Annie from A Bookish Type steered me towards this historical mystery and I’m glad I took her advice. I’m a sucker for good period pieces with good research interwoven with a good story. The Way of All Flesh checks all most boxes (you know I’m picky).

The setting is 1847 Edinburgh, and by my book it’s already a good point: you might already know that I can’t resist a good Scottish mystery, especially after we visited the city a few years ago. Edinburgh really comes alive in its different neighborhoods, with a stark contrast between the seedy, gloomy, disease- and poverty-ridden Old Town, and the posh, clean and safe New Town.

The mystery takes place among doctors, especially obstetricians and surgeons, and it was quite fascinating to learn how operations and childbirth played out at this time. It was quite risky (this much I knew), but without anesthesia it was also a gore and terrifying show. Surgeons operated in front of an audience of young medical students while poor patients were aware of every single thing done to them. I was also very interested to learn about the search for the right product to desensitize patients and women in labor, and how doctors experimented products on themselves (with all the risks involved!). I had never heard of the famous obstetrician Sir James Young Simpson, and I’m glad that he’s more than a passing cameo in this book, as the main character is actually an apprentice at his practice.

My only reservations are for the female main character, Sarah, a housemaid who is eager to learn science and medicine, and is angry at the limitation of her gender and station. She is one of these characters who seems to have a 21st century brain stuck in a 19th century body. It’s actually one of my pet peeves, but luckily the other fine qualities of the story, pace and background far outweigh this little flaw. I understand that this is meant to be the first book in a series, and I’d gladly read the next adventure.

An interesting tidbit is that Ambrose Parry is actually a couple who write together: Chris Brookmyre, a writer of thrillers and his wife, Marisa Haetzman, who worked as an anaesthetist. No wonder that the research is so accurate!

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

One thought on “The One with the Impact of Chloroform

  1. Pingback: The One with Dickens and Mates | Smithereens

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