Touching Distance, By Rebecca Abrams

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The Independent Culture

In the wake of the French Revolution, a curious and headstrong Scottish doctor fought a gruelling battle of his own against tradition and authority. Firmly rooted in historical events, Rebecca Abrams's engrossing novel tells how Dr Alec Gordon struggled to understand and overcome the epidemic of "childbed fever" that cut a mortal swathe through the mothers of Aberdeen in the early 1790s.

Although he has "circled the disease like a predatory suitor, pursued it like a man betwitched", what follows is not gratitude but spite and strife – and divisions that creep into his own family. Rich in evocations of this tough city of risk and grief, the novel shuns all medical sentimentalism. Even as she salutes its hero and the suffering women he helped, Abrams shows that "Ignorance comes at a price, and so too does knowledge".