The Art Of Dying (2019) by Ambrose Parry

Edinburgh 1850, and Will Raven returns to the city after time abroad furthering his studies in medicine. He returns to take up a permanent post as a doctor in the city, but is shocked to find that Sarah Fisher, the other reason he chose to return, has moved on in her life. The two find themselves thrown together to try and clear the name of their mentor, Dr James Simpson, accused of malpractice that lead to the death of a patient.

But there is more than one mysterious death in Edinburgh. Raven and Sarah begin to see connections between a number of deaths due to mysterious ailments. It seems an angel of death is stalking the infirm, but with the Edinburgh underworld taking an interest in Raven once again, can a killer who can strike without trace be found?

This is a fascinating book, the second by Ambrose Parry – the husband and wife team of Christopher Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman. You may be familiar with Brookmyre’s name as the author of a multitude of crime fiction novels, Tartan Noir, if you like, but it is Haetzman’s research into the history of medicine that has inspired this series, which started with The Way Of All Flesh.

It is an absorbing read, focussing in part on the history of medicine – there’s quite a lot on the development of chloroform in this one. Now you may well think that the development of the use of chloroform in medicine isn’t an interesting subject – you know, I would have thought that too – but it is. The medical history stuff in this book is absolutely fascinating, but that isn’t the only strength.

The narrative focusses on three characters primarily, Raven, Sarah and the murderer. The first two are trying to find their place in the world. Raven is trying to settle into his life as a doctor and Sarah is trying to become a doctor, despite the attitudes of the time. There’s also the matter of their relationship which has struck a major complication. The murderer, meanwhile, is narrating their life experiences which has led them to their current choices.

One thing that I should say, this isn’t a mystery. It’s a thriller, with some twists and turns along the way that kept me reading, and it is a deeply satisfying read. But it’s not a whodunit – not that it ever claims to be, and well done for the publicist for not claiming it is.

This made a very pleasant change from my usual reading, and if the setting appeals, it is definitely worth your time.

Availability: The Art Of Dying is out in hardback and in ebook on August 29th. Many thanks to Canongate books for the review e-copy.

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