VOICES OF THE DEAD
Never has there been a time where people have been so enthralled by possibilities of science, but this appetite for the amazing is also being fed by a new generation of showmen and magicians, whose invention and ingenuity leave the public often unable to distinguish between the wonders of technology and the art of illusion.
Several mesmeric hospitals pop up in Edinburgh, claiming remarkable cures and offering egalitarian training for men and women. While the medical establishment remains sceptical, Dr James Young Simpson has an open mind, dabbling in seances to give this niche study a fair chance. Having faced discrimination from the medical field on the basis of gender, Sarah Fisher sees the hospitals as a place for opportunity.
Voices of the Dead is the fourth book in the medical mystery series featuring Will Raven and Sarah Fisher by husband and wife team Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman. Set in 1854, the use of chloroform has been given a boost when it is revealed Queen Victoria was administered it during the birth of her eighth child, Prince Leopold, and has given it her stamp of approval. The news delights James Simpson, who was the first to demonstrate the anaesthetic properties of chloroform on humans, and he reckons it is the dawning of something big for the scientific community.
Dr Will Raven is just as enthusiastic as his mentor, however he is becoming increasingly aware that he has learned all he can from Simpson and it is time to strike out on his own, Life has become more complex for Will since his marriage to Eugenie and the birth of their young son. Haunted by the failures of his own father, Will doesn’t know how to behave around his son who only ever seems to cry and he is tired of Eugenie badgering him to start his own practice. Since Eugenie is pregnant with their second child, Will is starting to feel the pressure financially but has no intention of accepting the funds offered by Eugenie’s father.
Will’s unsettled home life leads him to spending more time at Simpson’s practice and Sarah with whom he still has a complicated relationship. Sarah is more determined than ever to find a way of practicing medicine and is intrigued by the new craze for mesmerism that is sweeping the country. As Sarah is drawn closer to the practitioners, she wonders if it is a useful medical tool that could potentially open doors for her to practice herself. When Will dismisses it as a fad, Sarah stubbornly believes he is being a snob and is determined to learn how to do it herself. As Sarah attends meetings, she is amazed at what she is witnessing but deep down her suspicions are aroused. Can mesmerism really cure people?
At the same time, Will is called to Surgeons Hall where a severed foot has been left in a closet of an eminent professor who is keen to have the mystery solved without the involvement of the police. However, the investigation leads Will to a domestic tragedy and in pursuit of an elusive actor who is a master of disguise. So things are never quite what the seem, especially when it appears Will’s case may be linked to Sarah’s new friends.
Will also comes face to face with his old enemy Flint who has gone up in the world thanks to his interest in property but Will can’t bring himself to trust him and he is proven correct when Flint proposes a deal. Flint wants Will to help him sell the body of Gregor, his giant compatriot, who is nearing the end of his life so he can use the money to finance a business deal. The problem is Will has already promised Gregor he won’t let anyone have his body and will ensure he is buried with dignity. Gregor is haunted by the fate of Charles Byrne, a real life Irish giant, whose body was snatched despite his arrangements for a burial at sea. Byrne’s skeleton was on display at Hunterian Museum until 11 January 2023 when it bowed to public pressure to retire it. There have been growing calls for Byrne to finally have his burial at sea but this has not been done so far.
Voices of the Dead once again brings Edinburgh to the forefront of medical science and then blends it with the growing interest in spiritualism. We get reacquainted with some old characters from Will’s past and introduced to some new ones, not all of whom are trustworthy. The book hints there are a lot of changes coming since Will’s time with Simpson is coming to an end so it is going to be interesting to see how Will copes being on his own and where Sarah will fit into the picture. This series continues to be a gem.