Will Raven is about to start his apprenticeship with the renowned Dr Simpson. Before that though he makes one more visit to his friend, local prostitute, Evie. He finds her dead, her body contorted. More girls are found and Will, together with Dr Simpson’s maid Sarah, are determined to find out who has been killing women across Edinburgh.
The book starts out slowly, paving the way for the latter half of the story where the story picks up pace at speed. The first half seems to set the stall, introducing the characters and setting the scence, before the main story arch settles in. I soon found myself drawn into the story, eager to be drawn back to the dark and foggy streets of Edinburgh in 1847. I loved the atmosphere of the book. It was easy to imagine the comfortable drawing rooms of the wealthy and the stark contrast of the freezing attic rooms of the poor visited by Raven and Simpson.
There are a variety of characters who all add to the story. Doctors Keith and Duncan are polar opposites in character but add a balance to the story. There are Jarvis and Mrs Lyndsay who, though background characters, help to show the contrast between those above stairs and those below. This is even more apparent when Mrs Simpson and Mina, Dr Simpson’s sister-in-law are on the page. Mrs Simpson does not appear much on the page but the relationship between her and the doctor is hinted at as one of love and from her side at least, bemused indulgence. It would be good to see her character develop in further stories. Mina is driven by the need to find a husband, the relative ease of being born on the right side of the staircase showing it was fraught with stresses and dangers of a different kind.
Will Raven is driven, eager to make more of himself, to bring himself up from his beginnings. He has a darker side, one he is all too aware of, and an event in his past still haunts him.
Dr Simpson is a kindly fellow, good humoured, sincere and motivated more by the need to do good than by money, unusual for the time.
Sarah is struggling to accept that being a woman means she has less opportunity than men. She would give anything to be able to study, to commit her time to learning instead of serving tea and running errands for rich women. She battles internally against the societal norms in that women should be in service or in the mill if working class, or married or a governess otherwise and is determined that Will treat her with respect and as his equal.
There are some medical procedures mentioned in the novel that may make the squeamish wince and make some of us sigh in pity for the women of history. Anaesthetic was just being introduced at the time of the novel’s setting and it was interesting to read about procedures of the time, whilst also making the reader thankful that medicine has advanced so much.
As for the murderer I knew who it was before the reveal though that did not spoil my enjoyment. I particularly enjoyed the denouement and the final chapter of the story was a fitting and entertaining end to the novel.
The Way of All Flesh is the first in a new series. An atmospheric, entertaining tale. I look forward to reading more stories featuring Raven, Simpson and Sarah in the future.