The Pharmacist's Wife

Paperback edition released 05/04/2018

by Vanessa Tait

Historical Fiction Books with reviews by our Reader Review Panel Thriller and Suspense eBooks of the Month

LoveReading Expert Review of The Pharmacist's Wife

March 2018 Book of the Month

Oh my, this is a fascinating, darkly powerful novel with biting attitude, set in Victorian Edinburgh. In the laboratory above a newly opened pharmacy, a wonder-drug is created, as the pharmacist experiments, his wife of six months discovers a world she couldn’t have imagined. Kindness and love sit at the very heart of this novel, however light can be so easily doused, and a bleak and twisted shadow menaces the pages. This may be a blistering Victorian drama, yet the characters feel so very real, their thoughts and feelings could easily be exposed today. Vanessa Tait writes with a provocative, combative pen, my mind flinched, my heart ached, and yet hope existed within the very centre of my being.  Raw, elemental and disturbing, The Pharmacist’s Wife is an entirely captivating, enthralling read - highly recommended.

Liz Robinson

The Pharmacist's Wife Synopsis

Love. Desire. Vengeance. A deadly alchemy.When Rebecca Palmer's new husband opens a pharmacy in Victorian Edinburgh, she expects to live the life of a well-heeled gentlewoman. But her ideal is turns to ashes when she discovers her husband is not what he seems. As Rebecca struggles to maintain her dignity in the face of his infidelity and strange sexual desires, Alexander tries to pacify her so-called hysteria with a magical new chemical creation. A wonder-drug he calls heroin. Rebecca's journey into addiction takes her further into her past, and her first, lost love, while Alexander looks on, curiously observing his wife's descent. Meanwhile, Alexander's desire to profit from his invention leads him down a dangerous path that blurs science, passion, and death. He soon discovers that even the most promising experiments can have unforeseen and deadly consequences...

Reminiscent of the works of Sarah Waters, this is a brilliantly observed piece of Victoriana which deals with the disempowerment of women, addiction, desire, sexual obsession and vengeance.

About This Edition

ISBN: 9781786492715
Publication date: 5th April 2018
Author: Vanessa Tait
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Format: Paperback
Pagination: 400 pages
Primary Genre Historical Fiction
Other Genres:

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The Pharmacist's Wife Reader Reviews

In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title.

Prepare to immerse yourself in Victorian times and live amongst the daily trials faced by Rebecca Palmer, a woman who on the face of things should be happy, but definitely isn’t.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect with this book. I was intrigued but unsure if I would like it. How wrong! It’s a fantastic insightful book. Having finished it I feel like I have lived along with the characters and found myself totally immersed in life in Victorian Edinburgh. The story felt incredibly real and the underlying emotions captured through the theme of drug addiction was fascinating and wholly believable. Definitely recommend this book!

Julie Watkin

A strong story that is enticing from the start and tells a tale of addiction and desire in the Victorian Edinburgh. Lightly sprinkled with historical detail and overall a great read. Would recommend.

The Pharmacist's Wife uses the Victorian period as the backdrop for a tale of deception and desire. Rebecca appears to be a typical character of the era, married in the knick of time after her father's death to a Pharmacist she doesn't really know. The couple live in Edinburgh, with Alexander owning and running his own pharmacy.

 The plot then delves deeper. The development of Alexander's new miracle drug heroin is said to be the ideal drug to relieve women of the hysteria and stresses of the world. Developed for a time where a small number of  "deviant" and corrupting women were starting to demand more equal rights. A poignant topic with this year's Vote100 anniversary.

At times this book is tragic, filled with twists, turns, secrets, scandal and addiction. The characters are plagued by fetish, ambition, greed and drug fuelled dreams of a lost love. A great read if not entirely convincingly set in the Victorian period, as it is lightly sprinkled with historical with historical detail and accuracy. 

Overall I enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend this enticing and well written story.


Charlotte Walker

A Edinburgh of gas lamps, horse drawn trams and carts. The atmosphere this author has conjured up is magnificent. You live in Edinburgh of the mid 1800's and savour every moment.

When Alexander opens his new pharmacy, things look rosy for him and his new wife Rebecca. But all is not as it seems. This was a delicious tale. Love, desire, vengeance are all present. Also throw in drug addiction and you have a deadly alchemy.  Set in Victorian Edinburgh this is a gothic tale. Where men rule and women are mere chattels . They are expected to obey men in all they say and subvert their own opinions and beliefs to the male of the species. 

A story that entertains, grips and has readers shaking their head in wonder and incredulity. A tale that has the reader smelling the atmosphere of Victorian Edinburgh. A Edinburgh of gas lamps, horse drawn trams and carts. The atmosphere this author has conjured up is magnificent. You live in Edinburgh of the mid 1800's and savour every moment. If you like the tales of Sarah Waters you will enjoy this book Thanks to the author, publishers and for the ARC.

A worthy 4 stars


Alfred Nobile

The Pharmacist's Wife is a gripping tale of drugs, passion and a woman's fight against oppression.

Fast paced and very well written it centres around Rebecca, a strong, 'modern' woman still in love with her childhood sweetheart, Gabe, but now married to Alexander. Alexander in turn wants only to find fame and fortune through his new 'cure' drug, irrespective of the consequences and casualties along the way. Tait keeps you wondering what will happen and, while I didn't really connect with Rebecca, I found myself willing her on. Set in 1865, it captures the customs and expectations of respectable living in Edinburgh along with the seedier, gritter side of abuse, oppression and survival. Tait's vivid descriptions are not only visual, but you can smell, hear, taste and feel the characters.

Heather Byrne

An unusual story set in Victorian times about the emerging development of laudanum and heroin and it's misuse through pomposity and ignorance. A very chilling and extremely engaging novel.

I loved this book, so very easy to read and quickly engaging and romped through it in a few days. It reminded me of Birdcage Walk by the late Helen Dunmore and the fact that it was also set in a city I love, was great.

It was so carefully written, quietly subtle and observational and with an unusual theme running through it about the power of drugs and the mastery of men over womenfolk in Victorian times. 

It was so very easy to understand how a woman was nothing but a piece of property to her husband in those days with no belongings and no money to her name and therefore he could do with her as he would. Chilling and scary.

But as the story develops the wife's strength come to the fore, although I did worry at one stage as to what turn the novel might take next and where it was going to lead and what would become of our heroine. 

But the book has a delicious and very refreshing twist to the story that will have you cheering her on....but to find out what that is you will need to read the book! 


Judith Waring

Victorian Edinburgh not as one would imagine Victorian society. Pharmacist with dreams of curing his wife "hysteria" with the new chemical wonder drug heroin- this opens Pandora’s box.

Coming from Edinburgh - the fact this is set in Victorian Edinburgh Not only can I imagine the scenes, but it is an apt place to set this historical fiction story. When I walk in the dark streets I can sense the atmosphere of that time.

This has addiction, Heroin (deadly in the wrong hands) female empowerment and male domination at a time if women had problems it was probably ""hysteria"" apparently in 1859 one physician (male) stated one quarter of women suffered from hysteria!!

Alexander opens a pharmacy in Edinburgh and claims that his wife will be cured with heroin - but this opens Pandora’s box and fighting to leave this man. This is a difficult time as woman had no rights and money was owned by the man.

This is a dark story, interesting as today we are a gasp at abusive men and what men will do for science and their own gains. it is about sexual obsession and vengeance

Well written and well researched by the author of The Looking Glass.

This is due for publication April 5th 2018. This will be up there in the top ten.


Jane Brown

A compelling, brilliantly written book that feels very apt for the current climate, exploring feminism without being preachy. I loved it.

This would not be a book I would normally pick up to read and I’m so glad I got the chance to review this. It’s absolutely brilliant. Set in Edinburgh the writing creates a vivid image of the city. The characters are compelling. I really felt for Rebecca and her unhappy life, I enjoyed her changes throughout the book from feeble, easy to push around through her addiction and the strength she finds. 

 I enjoyed all the characters, even the cruel Alexander as he wasn’t written in a two dimensional way as just being a cruel and horrible man. There was more to him and whilst I wanted bad things to happen to him I also enjoyed reading about him. 

 I loved every bit of this book and am sad to be finished.

Rebecca Cockeram

Accurate reflection of attitudes of times gone by and an entertaining read.

This book reflects the attitudes of Victorian world whilst telling an entertaining and captivating story.

Peter Mynehan

A brilliant story from beginning to end covering a wide variety of genres for readers.

A great story set in Edinburgh in 1869 telling the story of love, romance, science, pharmacy, Victorian attitudes, sex, affairs, marital abuse and the list goes on.

Rebecca starts out her new life as the wife of a pharmacist with hopes and    dreams of a brilliant future, completely unaware of what plans her husband and his friend Mr Badcock had in store for her, from treating her with physical and verbal abuse to using her as a guinea pig for their experimentation in the hope of gaining vast wealth for themselves.

Gabe is at Rebecca's side when she decides things have to change and with his support turns the tables on her husband and his fiendish friend with spectacular results which exceeded her expectations.

A brilliant read and you won't be disappointed!


Catherine Bryce

A tale of Life in Edinburgh in the mid 19th Century.

Tells the story of the seamier side of life in Edinburgh in the mid 19th century. Soon after her marriage Rebecca discovers her pharmacist husband is not the honourable or loving man she believed him to be and as she discovers more about his double life she endeavours to shame him into respectability. The novel explores how little control of their lives women had at that time and that by working together across the classes they could gradually effect change. Whilst this is a story that needs to be told I sometimes found the narrative awkward and the relationships between the characters not always convincing.

Nicola Cooper

This book is set in the Victorian era and it is a story about a married couple Rebecca and Alexander, I did think it was going to be more about the pharmacy side but it was interesting to read.

This book is set in the Victorian era and it is a story about a married couple Rebecca and Alexander. Alexander sets up a pharmacy and he tries to help his wife with hysteria by creating a magical new drug. I did think it was going to be more about the pharmacy side but it was interesting to read about Rebecca's addiction. I really disliked her husband though, he seemed a very arrogant man who gets what he wants all the time. 

Hannah Ward

Rebecca is indeed a feisty young woman and Alexander is truthfully highly unpleasant. There are, however, no depths to their characters and in actuality I didn't really care much for either of them.

Alexander Palmer has chosen a wife; a compliant young lady upon whom he can experiment with his new invention, heroin. Rebecca Palmer is not the retiring young woman her husband thought she was and, despite being heavily dosed up with "medicine" she sets out to show him what she's really made of.

I really liked the idea of this novel when I read the precis and was looking forward to reading it, thinking it would be full of Victorian intrigue and Dickensian characters. Unfortunately, there were none of those and, if anything, the plot is superficial at best.

Rebecca is indeed a feisty young woman and Alexander is truthfully highly unpleasant. There are, however, no depths to their characters and in actuality I didn't really care much for either of them. There is a supporting class of equally unpleasant or characterless folk involved; the only one with any spirit is the maid, Jenny, who gets out of the area as soon as she possibly can and who can blame her?

All in all, a great idea backed up with a lacklustre story; such a shame as I was expecting so much more!


Kerry Bridges

A thrilling, dark and well written psychological study into drug addiction set in Victorian Edinburgh.

I really enjoyed the Pharmacists Wife. It was a thrilling, dark psychological study into drug addiction set in Victorian Edinburgh. I rushed through the first two thirds as of watching a car crash, but then it all concluded in a largely believable fashion. The characters were well developed but I’m not sure how authentic the ending was considering it was set in 1869. That said, I didn’t want it to end and really enjoyed it.

Liz Stein

Didn't want to put it down in the end.

I don’t tend to read Historical Victorian Fiction much but this was definitely worth the read. I did struggle with the first half of the book but the second half was really good. The first half  of the book was a bit too slow and unnecessary for my liking but I didn’t give up, and I’m glad I didn’t. The second half was fast paced and very interesting so much so that I didn’t want to put the book down.


A slower burner, that i struggled to stick with.

This particular novel is unlike anything i have read before. I would say it is more of a thriller in which the downtrodden heroine struggles to escape the clutches of her controlling and mysterious husband.

This story is based in Edinburgh in the 1800's and centres upon an age when alchemy was really just beginning and experimentation held no bounds. The leading lady of this novel is a seemingly compliant, nervous young woman who has married a seemingly charming man who she knows nothing about. The story develops when the husband uses his wife and other seemingly weak women to experiment upon the effects of this ""wonderful"" new drug her has discovered called heroine. As the story develops we see more of the heroines character develop and i am pleased to say she is not a downtrodden as she may first appear.

I am saddened to say this particular novel i found difficult to stick with as i got lost every few chapters with this one and it was hard to keep my attention on the book until well into the latter part.


Laura Rowland

Vanessa Tait Press Reviews

A captivating book.... It is a story that is both whimsical and disturbing. -- Lady Review for THE LOOKING GLASS HOUSE 

Tait's engaging novel... is sensuous and lyrical.-- Sunday Telegraph Review for THE LOOKING GLASS HOUSE

Moving and original -- Kate Saunders, The Times - Review for THE LOOKING GLASS HOUSE 

Other editions of this book

ISBN: 9781786492739
Publication date: 04/04/2019
Format: Paperback

ISBN: 9781786492715
Publication date: 05/04/2018
Format: Paperback

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About Vanessa Tait

Vanessa Tait grew up in Gloucestershire. She went to the University of Manchester and completed a Master's degree in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths College. She is the great-granddaughter of Alice Liddell, the little girl who inspired Lewis Carroll to write Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The Looking Glass House is her first novel, inspired by family treasures and stories of the 'original' Alice.   Click here to read an 'Ask the Author' interview with Vanessa Tait.   Author photo © Gareth Iwan Jones

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