Edinburgh, 1847. City of Medicine, Money, Murder.
In Edinburgh’s Old Town young women are being found dead, all having suffered similarly gruesome ends. Across the city in the New Town, medical student Will Raven is about to start his apprenticeship with the brilliant and renowned Dr Simpson.
Simpson’s patients range from the richest to the poorest of this divided city. His house is like no other, full of visiting luminaries and daring experiments in the new medical frontier of anaesthesia. It is here that Raven meets housemaid Sarah Fisher, who recognises trouble when she sees it and takes an immediate dislike to him. She has all of Raven’s intelligence but none of his privileges, in particular, his medical education.
With each having their own motive to look deeper into these deaths, Raven and Sarah find themselves propelled headlong into the darkest shadows of Edinburgh’s underworld, where they will have to overcome their differences if they are to make it out alive.
- Where did the inspiration come from for your current book?
The idea for the novel came from the research undertaken for Marisa’s master’s degree in the history of medicine. She was looking at the introduction of ether and chloroform at the Royal Maternity Hospital in Edinburgh where James Young Simpson was a consulting physician. Simpson was an intriguing character who mixed with all strata of Edinburgh society, ministering to the poor as well as the aristocracy. He lived in an unusual household where he saw patients every morning, made time to play with his children and held dinner parties where guests were encouraged to inhale anaesthetic vapours for pleasure. It seemed very far removed from the austere formality normally associated with the Victorian middle classes and we thought that it would make an interesting setting for a novel.
- Do you have a special ritual that you do when you finish writing a book?
As this is the first book we have written together we have yet to establish any rituals related to finishing a project. This is perhaps an aspect of the collaboration that we need to work on.
Chris used to drink a dram from a bottle of Springbank 21-year-old that Marisa bought him, then write the title of the book on the inside of the box. These days his ritual upon finishing a book is to start writing another book.
- What has been your favourite read of 2018, so far?
Marisa: Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon. It is a dual biography of mother and daughter Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley and is a fascinating account of the lives of two unconventional women.
Chris: London Rules by Mick Herron. This is the fifth in Herron’s series about the misfits and wash-outs of the intelligence services who end up under the charge of the magnificently monstrous Jackson Lamb. London Rules takes an already brilliant series to a new level of excitement, tension and wit.
- Could you, please share with us a photograph that tells a story?
A glass chloroform bottle in a leather case owned by James Young Simpson. Chloroform was administered by dripping it onto a handkerchief rolled into a cone shape and placed over the nose and mouth of the patient. The leather case would have protected the glass bottle and would have shielded the chloroform from light – in sunlight chloroform decomposed into phosgene (used as a nerve gas in First World War) and hydrochloric acid although this was not fully appreciated until 1880s. Perhaps the leather case was why Simpson reported fewer complications using chloroform than his peers.
- If you could pick three books that have influenced your life, what would they be and why?
The House of God by Samuel Shem provided sanity saving perspective for a junior doctor;
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish provided sanity saving advice for parenting and is the only truly useful book I have encountered on the subject;
This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson, a fictional account of Robert Fitzroy and Charles Darwin’s voyage on the Beagle and one of the best historical novels I have ever read.
Asterix In Britain by Goscinny and Uderzo cultivated my youthful taste for anarchic humour, which has served me well ever since, though Marisa might say this was where my lack of respect for historical accuracy stemmed from.
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks gave me a new perspective on Scottish writing, showing me that an idiom that was unmistakably Scottish, utterly twisted and irreverently funny could be regarded as literature.
Hiding the Elephant by Jim Steinmeyer. This book sparked my interest in conjuring, which in turn led to an obsession with investigations of the paranormal, which in turn led to an interest in the psychology of deception, which in turn…
- If your book had its own theme song, what would it be?
Everybody Hurts by REM
- If your book was made into a movie who would you like to play the main characters?
Raven the young medical student: James McAvoy
Sarah the housemaid: Karen Gillan
James Young Simpson: Kevin McKidd
- Do you have any questions for your readers?
In the pre-anaesthetic era would you opt to have surgery without aid of a soporific agent or would you choose to succumb to your disease?
How grateful are you to live in the 21st Century as opposed to the 19th?
- Lastly, if you could say something to your reader before they start your book what would it be?
Those of a sensitive disposition, look away now.
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