— DISCLAIMER: I received a eARC of this novel via NetGalley – thank you to both Netgalley and Canongate Books! All opinions expressed in this review are my own. —
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
PUBLICATION DATE: 02/10/2018
SUMMARY: Will Raven begins his medical apprenticeship with the eminent Professor of Midwifery in Edinburgh in the mid-19th century, when he stumbles upon a series of women who have died with their bodies contorted. He suspects that there may be more than the police suspects, as these are women of lower social standing that would not usually be seen as important cases. Over the course of his investigation, he, and the house maid Sarah, become entangled in a much bigger web than expected…
OPINIONS: What I liked best about this historical crime novel is that the characters are actually human. The authors (Ambrose Parry is a pseudonym for the authorial team) kept surprising me with their multi-faceted protagonists. Both Raven and Sarah, the two central characters, are utterly understandable and have reasonable flaws. The relationships between the different characters evolve organically, which makes for a wonderful read. Through Sarah, a smart, curious house maid, they also address the social implications of being a woman, and even foreshadow the suffragette movement later in the century. As they say, it needs women willing to fight for change to instigate changes happening.
Another really cool aspect was the detailed use of the state of the medical profession in Edinburgh at the time, going into practical midwifery, but also public surgeries, and even the beginning use of anaesthesia. This is a subject I didn’t know much about beforehand, and I found it fascinating to learn more about how medicine worked and developed in a period not that far from ‘modern science’, but often perceived to be almost as dark as the Middle Ages in popular conception.
I really enjoyed the novel, and could barely put it down at times, even if the culprit of the overarching mystery was rather obvious to me – though it made sense from the characters’ point of view that it took them so long to figure out the solution. The resolution at the end was well crafted, and gave the book a nice stand-alone end (although there are going to be further novels in the series).