Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1 by Julia Herdman is historical fiction and a twisting love story set in Georgian England, a setting I’ve come to enjoy from the mysteries written by William Savage. The author did not disappoint with this first outing, and I look forward to more from her.
Sinclair begins with two disparate story lines. Edinburgh surgeon, James Sinclair, is leaving England and his beloved, a woman he feels is out of his reach in society, to make his fortune with the East India Company. As a surgeon, Sinclair was educated in a medical school in Edinburgh, learning to perform surgeries, and trained in obstetrics. The ship on which he sails runs into a ferocious storm and founders on the English coast. Only he and Captain Greenwood, who is overseeing a company of British soldiers deployed to India, survive the shipwreck. Both return to London shaken and adrift in their lives, both needing to find a way to support themselves.
The second story line begins in a Yorkshire farmhouse, where John Leadam and his mother, Charlotte, are mourning the sudden death of Christopher Leadam, a surgeon at Guy’s Hospital in London who, together with his wife, ran an apothecary on Tooley Street. Apothecaries at that time were not legal practitioners of medicine but had the drugs to treat people who could not afford a physician. Charlotte, as a woman, could not continue to run the apothecary without the onsite presence of a physician. John was his father’s apprentice, hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps. Now their lives were also adrift. Charlotte has no idea how she will support herself and her son, other than moving back into her parents’ upper class home. She dreads being married off by her mother, who disapproved of her deceased husband, to a wealthy, older man.
Gradually the lives of Charlotte, John, and Sinclair begin to interweave, brought together by Charlotte’s brother-in-law, who happens to be Sinclair’s lawyer. The book is interesting on many different levels: the plight of women and their utter dependence on men in Georgian society; the practice of medicine at the time; social customs; and the growing attraction between Charlotte and Sinclair and their off-again, on-again relationship. The author does not shirk from some of the more distasteful details of Sinclair’s dalliances nor the results of typically unprotected sex: disease or pregnancy and death.
There are many colorful characters to draw the reader, and the author does a perfect job making them memorable. The historical background is wonderfully detailed, as is the medical scene in London, evidence of the author’s interest in the medicine of the time. There are love affairs with twists and turns, villains and saviors, passion and politics – in short, everything needed for a great read.
The author was inspired to begin writing The Tales of Tooley Street series by a real family of apothecary surgeons, the Leadams, who lived and worked in London there from the late 18th century to the mid- 19th century.
I highly recommend this book: five stars.
About the author (from Amazon):
Julia Herdman studied history at the University of Kent in Canterbury where she focused on medieval and early modern history reading the Roman classics, Norse sagas and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Now her interest and inspiration is the development of the urban middle class in Georgian Britain, particularly the development of the medical profession in Edinburgh and London. Writing about the things nice girls shouldn’t mention in polite conversation – politics, religion, sex and money is her passion. Her books are steeped in period detail and focus on family, friendship and love. At the heart of every story there is always a powerful and compelling romance.
You can find the author
On twitter @juliaherdman
On her blog: https://jh100759.blogspot.com/
And on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/julia.herdman.96
Sinclair can be found on Amazon books: