The Art of Dying by Ambrose Parry

Today I’m wishing a very happy publication day to authors Ambrose Parry as they celebrate the release of The Art of Dying, the latest in their Will Raven and Sarah Fisher series. I loved the first book in the series, The Way Of All Flesh, and couldn’t wait to get stuck into the latest. Thanks to publishers Canongate who sent me an early copy for review. Here’s what it’s all about:

Source: Review Copy

About the Book

Edinburgh, 1850.

Despite 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 protege 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.

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My Thoughts

It’s not often that I read what would be called ‘historical fiction’, not even crime, and certainly not anything this historically historical. Yet from the very first time I heard the authors give a reading from The Way of All Flesh I was hooked, and I have loved every minute of reading these books.

The Art of Dying sees the story move on a couple of years after the end of the last book. Will Raven is now a qualified Doctor, expanding his knowledge in Europe, and Sarah … Well Sarah has moved on too, in a way that Will could never have imagined. Now things wouldn’t be quite the same if Will wasn’t getting himself into some kind of scrape, and this rest assured that it is not long before our hero finds himself with every possible reason to accept a post with his former mentor, Dr Simpson, as his assistant back in Edinburgh. Quite dramatic, it makes me wonder just who he has upset in a former life as trouble seems to follow him wherever he goes.

But it is not this scene which opens the novel, not does it dominate the storyline, the truth being far darker and more twisted than anyone can imagine. Back in Edinburgh people are dying from unexplained symptoms, and Dr Simpson is being accused of negligence something that Sarah is determined to prove him innocent of.

And that’s all I want to say about the story. to say more would potentially damage your enjoyment or anticipation of the story and we wouldn’t want that now would we.

What I love about this series is the way that the authors have seamlessly blended medical fact with medical fiction. Dr Simpson is a very real, very important figure from medical history, the characters of Will Raven and Sarah Fisher much less so. Certainly the cases they find themselves wrapped up in did not necessarily happen within the Simpson household, but they are drawn from real life and all the richer for it. We are treated to a wealth of understanding and passion for the very subject they are discussing, but never to a point that would exclude or alienate readers. In fact, the factual elements of the story actually draw you in every bit as much as the fictional, although it is in the fiction that greatest amount of conflict, and therefore tension, lies. The suspense builds from the very first page, the sense of jeopardy and the characters having so much to lose clear from the outset.

The characters are brilliantly drawn. Will Raven is what can really only be described as a bit of a prat at times, but he is very much of his time. His fears, his prejudices and his mistakes are symptomatic of the very misogynistic views of the day, and yet there is something about him, a hesitant willingness to change and to bow to Sarah’s wishes, which still makes him appealing. You can’t help but like hims really as he means well, wishes to act morally, most of the times, and do the right thing, but his old fashioned nature doesn’t quote keep up with the speed of change. Sarah, on the other hand, is a thoroughly modern young woman. Determined not to be stuck with her lot, and striving at all times to better herself, she sees the limitations of her gender in society, even her social standing, but is determined to rise above them. I love her strength, her generosity of spirit and her bravery. She is a perfect counter to Will.

The chemistry between the pair is as electric as ever but there are new obstacles in their way, the least of which is Will’s fear of courting someone of a lower social status than his own, although if you’ve read book one you will understand some of the hypocrisy in this assessment of Sarah. I love this layer of conflict which just adds to the story and gives it an air of authenticity.

The secondary characters in this book are all important too. Dr Simpson is delightfully madcap and generous, but still all knowing and insightful, stepping up when it matters most. From Will’s old nemeses, Flint, Weasel and Gargantua, through to the characters that they meet whilst trying to prove Simpson’s innocence, all add colour and texture to the story. And as for the portrayal of Edinburgh – it becomes a character in itself. The streets, the weather, the difference between the haves and have-nots all add tension and atmosphere to the tale which help to drive the action onward. I flew through the reading, feeling somewhat bereft when I finished as I love being in this world. Still, it’s fair to say that I am excited to see where the series goes from here and that there are definitely going to be more books as there is so much of history to draw from, the authors admit they are only just scratching the surface.

Good news for us book lovers, huh?

With chapters alternating between Will and Sarah’t to the point of view of the antagonist in this novel, this is one dark and deadly story, so very full of heart and humour, that I would most definitely recommend it.

About the Authors

Chris Brookmyre is an international bestselling and multi-award-winning author whose books have sold over one million copies. Marisa Haetzman is a consultant anaesthetist of 20 years’ experience, with a Master’s in the history of Medicine which formed the research for this book.

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