Volume one in the Tales of Tooley Street
After a surfeit of Tudor novels, my preferred era for historical fiction is the Victorian age, but I am beginning to discover the rich seam of social life, politics and sexual tension in the Georgian age.
In Julia Herdmans’ novel, we meet Edinburgh surgeon James Sinclair leaving his unhappy life in Edinburgh for a rewarding future with the East India Company. Luckily for the reader he is thwarted in this plan and instead takes a partnership in a surgeon/apothecary business in south London. The story reveals the suffering of so many patients in those days and the sometimes unhelpful remedies provided. Sinclair is a caring, astute doctor who does his best for his patients and trains his apprentices well, but he is somewhat inadequate in his understanding of women.
There are several other fascinating characters in this novel, particulary Charlotte Leadam, recently widowed and struggling to survive without entering into an unhappy pecuniary marriage. As the plot progresses the families of Charlotte and Sinclair become enmeshed and his selfish behaviour threatens them all. Against the background of the social life of London, Yorkshire and Edinburgh the story tells of evil doings and generous spirits.
This is the first book of a family saga and its satisfying conclusion, though possibly too perfect, sets the scene for more interesting developments in a following volume. This was a book I opened each evening with great interest as I got to know this talented, enigmatic man and hoped that he would sort out his life.
Julia Herdman has always liked things nice girls shouldn’t mention in polite conversation – politics, religion, sex and money. She studied history at university because of it.
In her early teens she was devouring Jean Plaidy and Winston Graham novels by the dozen. At university she moved onto first hand testimony including the Roman classics, Norse sagas and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
Now her interest and inspiration is in the development of the urban middle class, particularly the development of the medical profession in Edinburgh and London.
Her Tales of Tooley Street series is inspired by a real family of Apothecary Surgeons, the Leadams, who lived and worked there from the late 18th century to the mid 19th century.