Friday, March 31, 2017

March Book Review: The Wages of Sin

(First - yes, Kaite Welsh and I have very similar names! We became friends on Twitter partially because of that - mutual friends thought it was funny - but so far as we know we are not related. Alas.)

I'm a big fan of historical mysteries, so I know there are a ton of good series out there, and it can get overwhelming. But I'm here to tell you that you should absolutely try Kaite Welsh's debut The Wages of Sin, the first in her series about medical student turned detective Sarah Gilchrist. There are a lot of "spunky Victorian lady detective" series, but the fact that this one is set in Scotland rather than England and that Sarah is among the first class of medical students at her university to include women sets this series apart.

One of my pet peeves with historical mysteries - and historical fiction in general - is when characters have completely modern worldviews, and especially when earlier feminist characters think just like contemporary feminists. Welsh does a great job of avoiding that trap here. Sarah's views are very progressive for her time, but this reads as organic to the character, her background and experiences and interests. For all her advanced views, Sarah is very much shaped by her time and culture, so she doesn't seem to be dropped into the story from the present day.

The mystery Sarah investigates arises naturally from her medical studies (and from her volunteer work at a clinic), which helps the narrative work, but it is also completely intertwined with important economic inequality and social justice issues of the time (and of... now), which adds heft to the novel. The reader learns what's really going on in various parts of Scottish society as Sarah herself does, which helps avoid preachiness, and the mystery plot is well-paced and complex enough to be satisfying without being unnecessarily ornate.

Sarah Gilchrist is a delightful, complex protagonist surrounded by interesting supporting characters, and I'm definitely looking forward to following them through more books. But I'm looking forward even more to returning to the fascinating world of late Victorian Edinburgh and seeing how the series develops through this time of social change.

(This review made possible by my Patreon supporters! If you'd like to see more reviews here, come join! I think we're only a few dollars a month from the next goal.)

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