Bloody Scotland: McIlvanney Prize Shortlist – A Corruption of Blood by Ambrose Parry

I am so happy today to be able to combine two things I really love – Bloody Scotland and the Will Raven and Sarah Fisher series by Ambrose Parry. It’s my absolute pleasure to join the blog tour celebrating the four McIlvanney Prize shortlist titles amongst which we can count book three in the series, A Corruption of Blood. This is one of those rare occasions where both Mandie and I have read the book so we’re reshaping both of our thoughts on what makes this books a very worthy finalist.

The full short list of titles are:

The Heretic – Liam McIlvanney
Second Cut – Louise Welsh
A Corruption of Blood – Ambrose Parry
At God Forgive – Alan Parks

The winner of the award will be announced tonight at a special event, starting at 19:00 at the Church of the Holy Rude in Stirling, with the award announcement tot take place at the Albert Halls. Luckily for Mandie and I, we’ll both be there cheering Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman, aka Ambrose Parry, plus all the other finalists on.

Before you see what Mandie and I thought, here’s a little bit more about A Corruption of Blood.

Source: Owned Copy
Release Date: 04 August 2022
Publisher: Canongate Books

About the Book

Edinburgh, 1850. This city will bleed you dry.

Sarah Fisher is keeping a safe distance from her old flame Dr Will Raven. Having long worked at the side of Dr James Simpson, she has set her sights on learning to practise medicine herself. A notion everyone seems intent on dissuading her from.

Across town, Raven finds himself drawn into Edinburgh’s mire when a package containing human remains washes up on the shores of Leith, and an old adversary he has long detested contacts him, pleading for Raven’s help to escape the hangman.

Sarah and Raven’s lives seem indelibly woven together as they discover that wealth and status cannot alter a fate written in the blood.

My Thoughts

I will start with a word of warning. This is not a very easy subject to read about. Nothing is glorified and there is nothing taken to gratuitous lengths within the story, but it does feature a very taboo subject, and of the death of children will cause you distress then you may want to exercise caution because the opening to the book is quite stark, and later discoveries do nothing to make the heart fill with warmth. That aside, this was yet another brilliantly researched, authentic feeling story which blends humour, history and mystery to entertain, and enrapture this. read from the very first page to the last.

Over the course of the three books I have really come to like the character of Will Raven. He is (now) a character driven by principles and set on doing the right thing, especially by Sarah, even if his head and his heart are torn. As for Sarah, she is a woman that many can recognise, held back by society but determined to make her own way in spite of it. This time around though she is plagued by some self doubts which are untypical of her, but believable of her circumstances. There is an amazing chemistry between the two characters and no matter what conflicts may occur and whatever circumstance, and the authors, throws in their way, they make a formidable pair.

There are two different threads to this story that lead our protagonists in. different directions initially, but ultimately resulting in their proving that two heads are far better than one. First up we have the murder of a very prominent Edinburgh resident. What we face here is a story full of tension, corruption and hidden truths which are as believable as they are shocking, but very much if the time. It is a twisted story of a fractured family, instantly recognisable, but give a unique Ambrose Parry twist that had me smiling in approval.

Sarah’s quest is one which will very much tug at the heartstrings and resonates with news stories from the not so distant past. It ties in with other elements of the story in a tragic and emotional way, one which will sadden even the hardest of readers. It has been handled with care but also with authenticity, and whilst it is easy to suppose we know where that particular thread may lead, always be prepared to expect the unexpected. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been – with hindsight, the clues are all there – but it certainly makes for quite the eyebrow raising moment.

This wouldn’t be an Ambrose Parry novel without a link back to the medical side of Raven and Sarah’s life and once again we are brought into the world of Dr Simpson, a blend of the factual and the imagined, which really adds another dimension to the stories. It is a thriller based in the world of medicine, rather than a medical thriller, but I have to admit that those scenes fascinate me every but as much as the wonderful array of characters and the rich settings that Ambrose Parry portray so beautifully. There are plenty of the old favourite characters littered throughout the story, as well as some new interlopers, who most definitely throw a spanner in the works as far as our Detecting duo are concerned. Potentially big changes afoot but it has left me all the more intrigued to see what may come next.

Recommended without a moment’s hesitation.

Mandie’s Thoughts

There will always be certain authors that you will turn to when you want a guaranteed great read, a book that will keep you turning page after page well into the night and for me Ambrose Parry sits well and truly in that category. This highly talented husband and wife writing team blend history with murder and mystery that gives the reader both an insight into the past whilst appealing to their inner detective. A Corruption of Blood seed Will Raven reunited with Sarah Fisher as they are both starting to make real plans for their futures, ones that may not eventually include each other.

When a former acquaintance from medical college is accused of his father’s murder, Will is asked to prove his innocence. He is not convinced that he will be able to help or that his own feelings toward him will not colour his investigations. Sarah finds herself looking into the seedier side of life in Edinburgh when she is enlisted by a maid working in Dr Simpsons house to find out what has happened to the child she temporarily gave up into care when she found herself alone, unmarried,and pregnant.

Its not long before Will and Sarah find themselves working together on both cases as they find their unique skills complement each other and open doors where alone they may have struggled to obtain the answers they sought. Their investigations lead them to some dark and dangerous places, once again putting themselves in danger and also confront a part of history and its practices that are unpleasant but unfortunately were also not ended quite as quickly as we would like to believe they were.

What I love most about this series is that the characters, no matter how big a part they play in events have a depth to them, making them seem more real. The blend of real people and events with the fictitious ones are seamless. For a history/crime nut like myself this series is just perfect. Neither element detracts from the other and with each book I am learning more about a part of history that I am finding truly fascinating.

Although this is the third in the series they can each be read as a stand alone but I would recommend that you start from the beginning so you can follow the relationship between Will and Sarah from the start and like me become more invested in their future with each new chapter.

Good luck Ambrose Parry!

About the Authors

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.

You can check out the other authors and titles who have been shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize by following the tour details below:

About The McIlvanney Prize

The McIlvanney Prize recognises excellence in Scottish crime writing, includes a prize of £1000 and nationwide promotion in Waterstones. Previous winners are Craig Russell with Hyde in 2021, Francine Toon with Pine in 2020, Manda Scott with A Treachery of Spies in 2019 (who chose to share her prize with all the finalists), Liam McIlvanney with The Quaker in 2018, Denise Mina with The Long Drop 2017, Chris Brookmyre with Black Widow 2016, Craig Russell with The Ghosts of Altona in 2015, Peter May with Entry Island in 2014, Malcolm Mackay with How A Gunman Says Goodbye in 2013 and Charles Cumming with A Foreign Country in 2012.

The initial longlisting is handled by over 100 crime fiction readers from all over Scotland including booksellers, bloggers, librarians and festival-goers and the longlist is then handed to the high-profile team of judges to decide on the eventual winner.

The Bloody Scotland Prize for Scottish Crime Writing first awarded in 2012 was renamed The McIlvanney Prize in 2016. The Bloody Scotland Debut Prize was introduced in 2019 and won by Claire Askew who this year made the McIlvanney longlist along with Deborah Masson who won the Debut Prize in 2020.

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