There’s a fine line between kill and cure.
Edinburgh, 1849. Despite Edinburgh being at the forefront of modern medicine, hordes of patients are dying all across the city, with doctors finding their remedies powerless. But it is not just the deaths that dismay the esteemed Dr James Simpson. A whispering campaign seeks to blame him for the death of a patient in suspicious circumstances.
Simpson’s protégé Will Raven and former housemaid Sarah Fisher are determined to clear their patron’s name. But with Raven battling against the dark side of his own nature, and Sarah endeavouring to expand her own medical knowledge beyond what society deems acceptable for a woman, the pair struggle to understand the cause of the deaths.
Will and Sarah must unite and plunge into Edinburgh’s deadliest streets to clear Simpson’s name. But soon they discover that the true cause of these deaths has evaded suspicion purely because it is so unthinkable.
What I needed to read right at this moment in time was a book that would not just distract me, but drag me into a world full of amazing characters and a wonderful story. The Art of Dying by Ambrose Parry fitted the bill perfectly, it is laden with atmosphere, packed full of characters that you will love and others you will hate and with a killer that made me shudder with terror.
Good historical drama needs both a sense of place and also a strong feeling of period. You need to feel you are there in Edinburgh 1849, not in your chair, in my case Cardiff in 2020. Ambrose Parry succeeded in making me feel like I was walking the streets with Will Raven and Sarah Parry. It felt dark and dangerous, as the inhabitants were being stalked by a deeply disturbed killer. Not here the modern, bustling streets of Edinburgh many of us are familiar with, but a city filled with menace and danger. I took each step with them, through fog and down into tenements teaming with poverty and criminal activity, then into the homes of the educated and well off, where secrets threatened the lives of our hero’s. The world they inhabited brought alive, by writing that delivered the past into my present in glorious detail and with a thrilling sense of unease.
Also we need characters that belong, that reflect the times they are living in, revealing their frustrations of the time and the dangers they are facing. Creating in Sarah and Raven a need within the reader for them both to survive and flourish. Sarah started life within these books as a maid, but her obvious intelligence has earned her a role of trust and a relationship that celebrates her talent, yet also reflects the barriers that society placed around her, so much so that she is unable to fulfil all her dreams. For the character to be the women determined to clear her employer from wrong doing, she needed to have an inner strength and a refusal to remain constrained by the norms of the times. The writers created in Sarah a character both equal parts reflective of so many women in the 19th Century, but singly unique and astonishingly brave and I absolutely adored her. Raven on the other hand, both annoyed me and frustrated me, he being reflective of a age of men and yet being so fascinatingly flawed, I became within a few pages fascinated by him and utterly in love with his personality. Both characters are so incredibly real feeling, so authentic, that they bring the story alive through the force of their complex personalities.
The story itself is tense and thrilling. It weaves from the continent to the streets of Edinburgh, while drawing us deep into the troubled mind of the killer. It takes us through the frustrations faced not only by Sarah who is constrained by her gender, but also a killer, whose past has shaped and created the monster they have become. While it gives us a male lead, capable of developing and evolving into the type of person that begins to see Sarah as an equal, We are treated to a story that oozes with tension, but is also celebrates the intelligence of its characters and readers alike. From page one to the final revelations, it weaves between quiet moments where characters can reflect and other’s where they are quite literally fighting for their lives. It is superb and very accomplished, a historical drama of the finest type.
I do hope there will be more.
About the author
Ambrose Parry is a pseudonym for a collaboration between Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman. The couple are married and live in Scotland. Chris Brookmyre is the international bestselling and multi-award-winning author of over twenty novels. Dr Marisa Haetzman is a consultant anaesthetist of twenty years’ experience, whose research for her Master’s degree in the History of Medicine uncovered the material upon which this series, which began with The Way of All Flesh, is based. The Way of All Flesh was shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year and longlisted for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award.
The Art of Dying is the second book in the series.