About the Book
Helen leaned close enough to fog the mirror with her breath and whispered, ‘You, my girl, are a qualified medical almoner and at eight o’clock tomorrow morning you will be on the front line of the National Health Service of Scotland.’ Her eyes looked huge and scared. ‘So take a shake to yourself!”
Edinburgh, 1948. Helen Crowther leaves a crowded tenement home for her very own office in a doctor’s surgery. Upstart, ungrateful, out of your depth – the words of disapproval come at her from everywhere but she’s determined to take her chance and play her part.
She’s barely begun when she stumbles over a murder and learns that, in this most respectable of cities, no one will fight for justice at the risk of scandal. As Helen resolves to find a killer, she’s propelled into a darker world than she knew existed, hardscrabble as her own can be. Disapproval is the least of her worries now.
Format: Hardback (336 pages) Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date: 14th April Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Crime
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The book has some really fascinating information about the birth of the NHS and the difficulty of overcoming people’s disbelief that health services are now free. I had not come across the role of a medical almoner before and it took me a little while to work out exactly what it comprised. The author certainly succeeds in depicting what life was like for the poorer inhabitants of Edinburgh: living in crowded and often insanitary housing, existing on poor diets and lacking knowledge of how to prevent common diseases. The theme of women’s health, infertility and motherhood run throughout the book.
In the opening chapters, we learn a lot about Helen’s family and their domestic background. Helen’s determination to forge a career meets with opposition from her mother who can’t see why she would want to do anything other than start a family with her husband, Sandy. Unfortunately, there’s a big stumbling block to this, the nature of which Helen won’t fully understand until later in the book. In the meantime, she’s just patiently trying to help Sandy recover from his experiences as a prisoner-of-war. He is reluctant to talk about what he went through in any detail but it has left him with a fear of enclosed spaces.
The use of Scottish dialect, although giving authenticity, did impair my reading experience. (I appreciate this would not be the case for Scottish readers.) Sentences like, ‘She couldn’t stop the weans from palling around the back greens and the front streets, although she told Helen not to give killycodes if she could help it’ left me mystified and had me searching online for clarification. There were phrases I didn’t know the meaning of – drookit (soaking wet, drenched) or hackit (ugly) – and others that had a different meaning to the one I was used to – bunker (a table top or kitchen counter) or press (cupboard).
For me, the book never really lived up to the publisher’s description of ‘gripping’. The mystery element unfolds really slowly although it takes some interesting twists and turns towards the end of the book revealing a distinctly unpleasant side of Edinburgh life. The author slips in some neat deflections and one or two surprises. However, the skip ahead in time at the end of the book and the late introduction of a new character made the conclusion feel a bit rushed.
I received an advance review copy courtesy of Hodder & Stoughton via NetGalley.
In three words: Detailed, authentic, absorbing
Try something similar: The Unquiet Heart by Kaite Welsh
About the Author
Catriona McPherson was born in South Queensferry. After finishing school, she worked in a bank for a short time, before going to university. She studied for an MA in English Language and Linguistics at Edinburgh University, and then gained a job in the local studies department at Edinburgh City Libraries. She left this post after a couple of years, and went back to university to study for a PhD in semantics. During her final year she applied for an academic job, but left to begin a writing career.
These days, McPherson lives with her husband on a farm in the Galloway countryside, where she spends her time writing, gardening, swimming and running. (Bio: Goodreads/Photo: Twitter profile)