Edinburgh. This city will bleed you dry.
Dr Will Raven is a man seldom shocked by human remains, but even he is disturbed by the contents of a package washed up at the Port of Leith. Stranger still, a man Raven has long detested is pleading for his help to escape the hangman.
Back in the townhouse of Dr James Simpson, Sarah Fisher has set her sights on learning to practise medicine. Almost everyone seems intent on dissuading her from this ambition, but when word reaches her that a woman has recently obtained a medical degree despite her gender, Sarah decides to seek her out.
Raven’s efforts to prove his former adversary’s innocence are failing and he desperately needs Sarah’s help. Putting their feelings for one another aside, their investigations take them to both extremes of Edinburgh’s social divide, where they discover that wealth and status cannot alter a fate written in the blood.
A Corruption of Blood, the third instalment in Ambrose Parry’s Raven and Fisher series of historical mysteries, has all the period atmosphere and astute characterisation of its predecessors, The Way of All Flesh and The Art of Dying.
Set in 1850 – just under a year on from the events of The Art of Dying – A Corruption of Blood sees young doctor Will Raven and his old flame Sarah Fisher sucked back into the darker side of Victorian Edinburgh. When a package containing the remains of a young child washes up on the shores of the Leith, Raven is shocked but not surprised. Edinburgh might be on the rise but the city remains home to intense poverty, and there are plenty of desperate people out there despite the moralising of rich ‘benefactors’ such as Sir Ainsley Douglas.
But when Sir Ainsley himself later dies in suspicious circumstances – and an old adversary of Raven’s is suspected of the crime – it soon becomes apparent that there is more to the body in the Leith than meets the eye. What could be the connection between the death of one of the richest men in Edinburgh and the package thrown into the Leith? Unravelling the mystery will take all of Raven and Sarah’s ingenuity – and will imperil the lives and futures of them both.
I’ve said it before but one of my favourite things about this series is the level of historical research that, although lightly worn, clearly underpins each book. In addition to bring the grime and the glamour of nineteenth-century Edinburgh to life, A Corruption of Blood continues to interweave the real and the fictitious, as Sarah and Will continue their association with Dr James Simpson, the medical pioneer who popularised the use of chloroform as an anaesthetic.
Simpson’s house at 52 Queen Street continues to be the beating heart of the book, even as Will and Sarah begin to spread their wings and develop their own lives away from their mentor. This means that, for returning readers, there will be plenty of familiar faces to enjoy catching up with, as well as new interpersonal intrigues to follow. Will and Sarah both continue to develop as characters, with Sarah now determined to use her newly won respectability and independence to forge her own career in medicine. Will, meanwhile, has met the woman he wants to marry – but things get complicated when Eugenie’s father, Dr Cameron Todd, turns out to be Sir Ainsley’s personal doctor.
Newcomers to the series need not be afraid of jumping into A Corruption of Blood however. Although it’s wonderful to see how Sarah and Will’s personal journeys progress in this novel, the central mystery is standalone and personal connections and past cases are briefly explained as necessary. That said, I’d urge anyone thinking of reading the series to go back to The Way of All Flesh and The Art of Dying because they’re fantastic novels in and of themselves, and you do get some important backstory that helps flesh out Will and Sarah’s relationship.
As with previous entries in the series, A Corruption of Blood doesn’t shy away from the less salubrious aspects of Victorian life. From the challenges that Sarah faces to get accepted as a medical practitioner in her own right, to the stigma surrounding unwed mothers and the devastating impact of poverty and precarity, the novel paints a picture of a complex world of social hierarchy, power, and corruption that both captivates and repels. In particular, I was fascinated to learn in this novel about Elizabeth Blackwell – the first woman to obtain a medical degree and be registered with the UK General Medical Council – and her struggles for both education and recognition.
In short, A Corruption of Blood is a brilliant addition to an already excellent historical crime series. With a twisting plot and compelling characters, it continues to evoke mid-nineteenth century Edinburgh in all its dark and gritty glory. Fans of the series will enjoy being reunited with Sarah and Raven, whilst newcomers should take this opportunity to dive into a thoroughly entertaining and vividly evoked historical mystery.
A Corruption of Blood (Raven and Fisher Mysteries #3) by Ambrose Parry is published by Canongate and is now available in paperback from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones, Bookshop.org, and Wordery.
If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green Bookshop, Sam Read Booksellers, Book-ish, Scarthin Books, and Berts Books.
My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 24 August 2022 so please do check out the other stops for more reviews and content!
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