Set in 1840s Edinburgh, The Way of All Flesh is a diverting tale of murder as well as a horrifying eye opener on the obstetrics of the time that made me wonder more than once how enough women have ever survived childbirth to have continued the human race.
Will Raven has accrued more than just an education whilst studying to become a doctor. Having become friendly with a sex worker, Evie, Raven has borrowed heavily for some ne’erdowells to help her out of a situation, only for her to turn up dead. Still pursued by the debt-collecting heavies, Raven takes up a place as assistant to the respected Dr Simpson, an unusual man who ministers to both rich and poor (often neglecting to collect a fee from the latter) and is experimenting on himself and quite often his dinner guests to find an anaesthetic to ease the pain of those who find themselves needing his aid. It’s while under Dr Simpson’s tutelage that Raven becomes privy to the knowledge that Evie isn’t the only young woman to have turned up dead recently, and finds himself teaming up with Simpson’s capable and ambitious maid to find out who is responsible, and why.
As a murder mystery this was entertaining even if I fingered the perp early on, but this book was most effective as a terrifying glimpse into what, until fairly recently, women went through to deliver children and the appalling procedures that doctors inflicted upon them (or their children. Finding out how infants threatening the lives of their mothers during delivery were removed sort of bent my mind for a little while, and is far too awful to describe here)
A decent read for those who like their murder mysteries a little historical, those who find the more gory medical stuff hard to handle are advised to steer clear.