A Corruption of Blood by Ambrose Parry

A Corruption of Blood is the third book in the series, written by Chris Brookmyre and his wife Marisa Haetzman as Ambrose Parry, featuring Will Raven and Sarah Fisher. Set in mid-nineteenth-century Edinburgh, this thoroughly researched and beautifully written story highlights the realities of life for women at both ends of the social spectrum; the circumstances of your birth were no guarantee of your survival.

Sarah had gone to Europe in search of Dr Elizabeth Blackwell, hoping for advice and inspiration that she too could fulfil her dream of studying to be a doctor, but comes home strangely subdued. Back living in Dr Simpson’s house, she has been asked by one of the servants for help in locating the baby that was taken from her against her will.

Meanwhile, Will has become engaged to Eugenie, daughter of another Edinburgh doctor, who asks him to help her childhood friend, Gideon, who is accused of poisoning his father, Sir Ainslie Douglas. He is also trying to find out why a murdered baby was discovered in the harbour at Leith. At first glance, none of these things are connected.

Despite Will being engaged to Eugenie, there is still an undoubted attraction between him and Sarah, and they struggle to come to terms with how it affects their relationship. It is only after they pool their resources, and discover their investigations are connected, that they start to make some progress. Gradually, as the two storylines converge, long-buried secrets are brought to light.

Medical history and real-life characters are woven seamlessly into the narrative which uncovers the misery caused by the unscrupulous ‘baby farmers’. Parallels are drawn between the advice given to women, then and now, such as not walking in certain areas of the city alone or after dark.

The sights, sounds and smells of Victorian Edinburgh are vividly described, the characters are well drawn and flashes of dark humour help to lighten the darkness in A Corruption of Blood. The hypocrisy surrounding society’s treatment of women, the double standards and the social injustice are all combined in this gripping, tightly plotted story. While you could read this as a standalone, I suggest it would be more meaningful to start at the beginning as The Way of All Flesh and The Art of Dying are well worth reading.

Thanks to Canongate and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.