An intrepid female medical student stumbles on a conspiracy in Victorian-era Edinburgh.
Sarah Gilchrist is one of a dozen young women braving their first year of medical studies at an unnamed Edinburgh university which has grudgingly admitted them but treats them with contempt. Chaperoned in sequestered classrooms, the women are mocked by male students and professors alike, but Sarah has it worse than most. As a debutante in London’s smarter circles, Sarah was raped at a ball by the son of a lord, then blamed for the attack and banished to a sanatorium for treatment of her "promiscuity." Debut author Welsh lays it on thick in the opening chapters. Sarah’s fellow female students shun her while her repressive aunt and uncle, with whom she lives, preach at her. She rarely encounters a man who doesn't smirk at her. A defter hand would evoke the pathos of Sarah’s situation without lathering the reader in it. Eventually Sarah finds a friend, and the story finds its footing when Sarah recognizes a corpse in dissection class as a young prostitute she encountered in her work at a charitable clinic. Did the girl die by suicide, or was it murder? Sarah’s investigation takes her to the houses of ill repute and opium dens of the less savory side of Edinburgh. Now the game’s afoot! Welsh makes clever use of the conventions of the genre—Sarah has a dull, respectable suitor who the family hopes will lure her from her unsuitable pursuit of education and an irascible, brooding mentor who will reveal a secretly tender heart—while throwing in a twist informed by modern sensibilities. Damp, sooty, moralistic, and sinning Edinburgh is convincingly evoked. A coy reference at the story’s conclusion to another Scottish medical detective hints that this novel may be the first in a series.
A gritty detective story as unflinching as its heroine, rich in well-researched period detail.