The wonderfully historic city of Edinburgh is home to this atmospheric murder mystery. Set in the mid-nineteenth century the medical advances, social behaviours, class system and exclusion of women from the professions, set the tone for this dark tale of deception and murder.
Dr Will Raven and Sarah Fisher are the two main protagonists who operate out of 52 Queen Street, the base of Dr James Young Simpson, the eminent doctor whose pioneering work with chloroform, especially in childbirth, is professionally renowned. The medical context is pervasive throughout the story and leads into many clever connections and the wherewithal to solve the mystery. The research into the medical, social and historic elements, and their placement within the story, build an authentic narrative that is solidly believable.
While Raven is returning home one evening, he is drawn into the discovery of a dead child pulled from Leith Port, with the body wrapped in a covering that will contain clues. An upsetting theme of unwanted children, baby farming, is an unfortunate reality of the times, where single mothers or poor parents tried to find an alternative life for their children. In the meantime, Sarah is travelling in Europe to meet Dr Elizabeth Blackwell, one of the first qualified women doctors, to seek her advice on joining the profession – an eventual meeting that leaves Sarah deflated and disillusioned.
There is a deep affection between Raven and Sarah although Raven doesn’t want to stymie her dream of becoming a doctor by starting a relationship that would interfere with her studies and be more of a block to her success. During Sarah’s travels in Europe, Raven meets Eugenie Todd, daughter of another leading physician Dr Cameron Todd, and they develop a relationship to a point of marriage expectation. When Sarah returns, she discovers how things have changed for Raven and her feelings of loss and envy surface, creating a teasing ménage à trois. I’m not a romance reader but I felt a fascination being drawn into their relationship and I certainly was rooting for one in particular. Raven and Sarah have investigations that require the help of the other, and they provide a great double act as they investigate both mysteries together. Now you’re only asking for trouble!!
This is initially a very slow-moving story in the first 40% of the book. Fortunately, at 40% the story did gain momentum and it took the death of the horrible and powerful Sir Ainsley Douglas to get things going. Sir Ainsley’s death is deemed murder by arsenic poisoning and his son and heir, Gideon, is arrested as the suspect. Gideon’s old childhood friend, Eugenie, asks Raven to investigate and prove his innocence, even though Raven and Gideon’s past is acrimonious. If it wasn’t Gideon, and the murder was for the inheritance, then who would stand to gain. The answer explores the legal clause of A Corruption of Blood, which is full of twists and surprises.
I would recommend reading this book because of the wonderful writing, characters and atmospheric tone. The mysteries are intriguing and well thought out but there are conveniences in the plot that take the shine off. The ponderous nature of the first 40% also causes a problem in staying engaged but becomes much better as the novel proceeds.
Thanks for another brilliant reading experience, Ceecee. A Corruption of Blood will not be released until August 2021. I would like to thank Canongate Books and NetGalley for providing me with a free ARC copy in return for an honest review.