A great historical mystery with a clumsy imprint of modern values – Wages of Sin by Kaite Welsh

Book Reviews, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Thoughts

It’s 1892. After an incident in London society leaves Sarah Gilchrist shaken to her core and ostracised, she follows her dream of studying to be a doctor in Edinburgh. She spends her evenings helping in a hospital for the most needy in society. When a prostitute she has treated at the hospital turns up on the dissection slab, she starts to investigate, putting her reputation, friendships and even life at risk.

The concept for this book was cool. I like the strong female heroine, I like that she doesn’t treat herself as a victim, and it’s interesting to be looking and learning about the first women doctors, and hey, she’s a detective too. So far so ridiculous, so fun. And the story unfolded pretty cleverly. I really enjoyed her encounters with the many classes and types of people that she encountered: rich relatives, other students, the underclass and more. And the solution was pleasantly unexpected. But Gilchrist was completely anachronistically liberal, and frustration with that overshadows my memory of the book.

I mean, really. Sure she’s progressive: Sarah wants to be a female doctor for goodness sake, and sure, she’s had a horrible experience that might inform some of her values. But the author manages to lump in modern viewpoints on any number of subjects into the narrative in a way that’s just not necessary. It seems to be a clumsy attempt to get the reader to identify with Sarah, and it grated horribly. 

The only other annoying thing was the way the ending happened. There’s a romance slowly and rather pleasingly unfolding throughout the book, but at the end it’s the man who works out the mystery first: the man who saves Sarah. For a heroine with such agency, such courage and a passion for truth it feels like a big fail for her to be saved by a man at the end. It felt like a turn against the feminism it was promoting.

That said, it was good fun, it was gripping, it scaled the heights and depths of society with flair, it moved quickly, it was well plotted and I would read another one, and probably even recommend it to someone else.

Thanks so much to the publishers for the free copy, it didn’t affect my opinion at all.

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