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The Wages of Sin by Kaite Welsh - Review

Sunday, January 21, 2024


This book was one of my Christmas swap gifts, and I was intrigued by it as I hadn't heard of the author before and I like crime fiction, as you know. I picked this up on the 10th of January because I'm trying really hard to read all my Christmas books. This book took me about a hundred pages to get into, but after that, I really got into it and read it really quickly. I desperately wanted to unravel the mystery and learn whodunnit. My Santa sender also sent me the next in this series, so I will look forward to that. 

So, the book is set in 1892. Sarah Gilchrist is in her late twenties and she is at Edinburgh University training to become a doctor. She is one of the first female cohorts of students. There are just twelve female medical students, and they are accompanied everywhere by suitable chaperones. Their very presence at the university is contentious - the male students don't like them and even the professors aren't very keen. Sarah desperately wants to become a doctor. She had been studying in London, but then something happened which derailed her reputation, and instead, she's been exiled to her aunt and uncle's house in Edinburgh.

You see, Sarah is a lady, she's aristocracy, and not too long ago she was at a party and went into an empty library where she was rapedby a man called Paul. The word rape is never used, and the narrative is not graphic about it, but it's obvious that's what happened. However, it was spun that Sarah was a willing participant and so she has been derided as a slut. She spent some time in hospital but her parents have abandoned her and she isn't allowed to contact her sister. She is living with her Aunt Emily and Uncle Hugh. Emily is harsh with her, treating her like both a small child and a wanton whore. Sarah is allowed to go to lectures and that's basically it.

Except, she is also allowed to do some work in a clinic, in the slums of Edinburgh, which looks after women and children. Fiona Leadbetter set up the clinic and Sarah thinks she's marvellous. They look after many, many women, many of whom are prostitutes. They help a girl called Lucy; she asks for an abortion but Fiona sends her away, saying she can't do that. 

But then, very soon afterwards, Lucy turns up on the slab at the medical school. Sarah is obviously scared and upset that the body is of someone she knows. She is convinced there are defensive injuries on Lucy, and that Lucy did not die of a self administered overdose of laudunum, but was murdered. She starts to look into who may have known Lucy, and finds that one of her professors, Gregory Merchiston, is a punter in the brothel where Lucy worked. Investigating, though, will lead her into dangerous areas and will get her education and even her life threatened. 

I liked the mystery a lot, and I liked the red herrings that were dropped and who the murderer was. I liked the feminist nature of Sarah's education and her being at university in the first place. I likesd her character and how she just wouldn't give up. I liked the feminist commentary around poverty and women's rights and so on (which just about stopped Sarah from being a bit of a White Saviour). I'm giving this four out of five as I really enjoyed it!

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