The story is set at a very exciting time in the development of medicine, with great discoveries taking place in areas such as vaccination and the spread of infection. However, the new techniques which Dr Alec Gordon is keen to implement don't go down very well with superstitious local folk and the medical establishment alike. Despite this hostility, his quest to discover what is killing these new mothers turns into an obsession, to the detriment of his family and career.
Meanwhile his wife Elizabeth is dealing with her own demons, with frequent flashbacks to a childhood dominated by her brutal father. Despite, or perhaps because of her troubles, Elizabeth comes across as cold and aloof and at times I found it hard to warm to her or sympathise with her plight.
What made the book especially interesting for me was the fact that it's based on a true story. In her Author's Note, Rebecca Abrams tells us that the real Alexander Gordon's 'Treatise on the Epidemic Puerpural Fever' became a recognised and respected text many years after his death and he is credited with being years ahead of his time in understanding how infection spreads.
Quite a slow, thoughtful book in terms of pace, but I liked the character of Alec and found the subject matter very interesting. Oh, a warning to those of you of a squeamish disposition - the book is quite gory and distinctly 'gynaecological' in places, with births, amputations and cataract operations sans anaesthetic portrayed in all their glory!