Will Raven is a medical student beginning his apprenticeship with Dr James Young Simpson. He has been involved with a prostitute Evie whom he finds murdered. Simpson’s housemaid, Sarah Fisher, takes a dislike to him, not least because of his educational and social privileges. She is barred from such opportunities because of her gender and class, despite her greater intelligence. Sarah studies medicine on her own. Coming from poverty, Raven is nevertheless, pompous, chauvinistic, quick to fight, and desperate to earn money and status. 

Like Evie, other young girls are being brutally murdered in the Old Town of Edinburgh, and Raven and Sarah are separately motivated to find the killer. Their master, Simpson, is conducting experiments with anesthesia and suspicions are cast upon him. Although Raven and Sarah are part of his household, they find his behavior mysterious. Eventually they collaborate to solve both mysteries.


The novel is a riveting, quickly moving tale that accurately portrays the atmosphere of mid-nineteenth-century medicine and social life. Descriptions of the complicated deliveries and autopsies are especially convincing.

The real Dr James Young Simpson (1811-1870) trained as a surgeon but is credited with introducing chloroform anesthesia for women in labour and improving obstetrical forceps. This novel is set in the 1840s during the early days of his research, when his work encountered criticism. Opponents were eventually silenced when Queen Victoria accepted chloroform during the birth of her eighth child. Simpson eventually was awarded many honours, and he is said to have served poor patients for free. 

Ambrose Parry is the 
pseudonym for a collaboration between a married couple, established writer Chris Brookmyre and anesthesiologist Marisa Haetzman, who holds a master’s degree in the history of nineteenth-century Scottish medicine. The pseudonym was surely inspired by the French military surgeon Ambroise Paré (1510-1590) who also responded to the suffering of his patients by abolishing the use of burning oil in treating wounds.

The Way of All Flesh 
is the first in a series of medical mysteries set in mid-nineteenth century Edinburgh and featuring Will Raven and Sarah Fisher, including The Art of Dying (2020) and A Corruption of Blood (2021).



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