Wednesday 24 August 2022

A Corruption of Blood, Ambrose Parry

This post is part of the blog tour for the novel. Thank you to Random Things Tours and Canongate for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Dr Raven and Sarah Fisher are back and investigating the mysterious death of a baby, washed up  on the shore of the Leith with a length of white thread round its neck. Not long after witnessing this upsetting sight Raven receives the news that another acquaintance has been found dead and that the son is the prime suspect. New love for Raven forces him deeper into the mystery as he searches for an answer that might set an old adversary free.

For the most part the mysteries seem almost secondary to Raven’s complicated love life, Sarah’s crushed ambitions, and commentary on the poor position of women in Victorian Edinburgh and the ways in which they are taken advantage of. In the final handful of chapters as the truth is slowly revealed in a series of twists and revelations you are drawn into the drama however and gripped in anticipation of the next bombshell.

The position of women in society takes a central role, with Sarah battling her competing desires for love and career. She is intelligent and accomplished but constantly ignored and belittled by men unable to imagine that a woman would have any useful insight. Her confidence has been knocked in her travels to meet Dr. Blackwell, the first registered female doctor, and she questions if she should ever have hoped for a future of medical pursuit. The need to help solve the mysteries and help her friends draws her back into the world which ultimately makes her life feel fulfilled. We are reminded of the importance of marriage in a woman’s opportunities. As a widow Sarah has more status and financial freedom than she had previously, but does she have the will to resist future marriage in order to retain some of that independence? Her former life as a maid both helps and hinders her. She is able to relate to those in need, but those who know her past are often inclined to let it colour their vision of her.

Women are shown to be vulnerable, whether through the contagious diseases legislation based on the infamous real-life Contagious Diseases Act, at risk of assault in their homes and workplaces, and at the mercy of society’s view of them. It is all too easy to be forced into prostitution and to suffer the associated judgment. At the heart of the novel is an abuse of vulnerable women, and those who seek to gain from their misfortune. It is a sad tale and one that won’t have a happy ending for many.

I haven’t read the previous two novels in the series but did not feel at a loss because of it, although it’s clear that much has been missed in the relationships presented, which can largely be intuited. The book wasn’t as atmospheric as I’d perhaps expected from reviews of the first two but it was nonetheless an interesting read. The medical detail and focus on the very real issues that haunted those alive at the time make this a moving read. A slow burn but ultimately worth the time.

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