The Unquiet Heart is the follow up to The Wages of Sin, and sees protagonist Sarah Gilchrist continue in her battle to become a doctor whilst trying to get to the bottom of murder and blackmail. Sarah is meant to be marrying Miles Greene to save her reputation, but a dead body found at their engagement party sparks off a different course, where Miles is accused of murder and Sarah is in the perfect position to investigate what is really going on. At the same time, she and her fellow female medical students must endeavour to be taken seriously, and Sarah’s complicated relationship with her professor and sometime companion in crime solving, Gregory Merchiston, continues to be unconventional.
Welsh’s series has a real focus on the characters and the lives of a range of women in the historical setting, which makes it ideal both for historical crime fans and for those who aren’t such a fan of the mystery genre. Sarah Gilchrist is once again a compelling protagonist, pleasingly flawed and stubborn and sharply clever. Her wit is a delight and her banter both with Merchiston and with fellow student Julia is a highlight of the book. As with the previous book, there’s a lot of focus on societal attitudes towards women and morality, focusing a lot on freedom, marriage, and what is seen as acceptable even by those with liberal attitudes. This provides an interesting insight into the period, as well as a lot of frustration as to how difficult it is not only for Sarah and her fellow female medical students, but for various women, particularly the servants in the book, with Welsh hinting a lot towards some of the class issues that intersect with gender.
This is a very satisfying sequel to The Wages of Sin, with an engrossing plotline that centres around Sarah and the choices she must make or that are made for her in her life. The mystery narrative is vital, but also feels less important than the key elements of the series: Sarah, the other characters, and the depiction of women’s lives in Victorian Edinburgh. These form a real heart (excuse the pun) to the series and make The Unquiet Heart so difficult to put down. It will be difficult to wait for another instalment to see what Sarah does next (and to hope that her and the other women studying to become doctors find happiness).