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.
With elements of history, crime, medicine and the role of women in the late 1800’s, this novel is rich in content and a highly enjoyable read.
Set in Edinburgh in 1849 we meet up again with Will Raven, now a qualified doctor, and Sarah Fisher, no longer a housemaid but a married woman and working within the clinic with Dr Simpson and his many patients.
Having enjoyed Chris Brookmyre’s Fallen Angel, I immediately read The Way Of All Flesh and was instantly hooked, so when a copy, and a gorgeous one at that, of the new release and 2nd in the series The Art Of Dying landed on my doormat, I was thrilled…..I dived straight in!
The book opens in a dark alleyway in Berlin, where Will and some friends are attacked by three masked men. Will manages to ‘see them off’ but was this a crime of chance or something more?
Returning to Edinburgh Will is keen to meet again with Sarah. He has started to have regrets with the way he left their friendship, but on arrival discovers that she is now married to another doctor! Sarah meanwhile is no longer a housemaid but working with Dr Simpson in the clinic, helping him with patients and procedures. Encouraged by her new husband and Dr Simpson she is even more determined to seek her dream of being a woman working within medicine. But how?
Once Will is settle in and put to work he hears about the whisper campaign that has been spreading about Dr Simpson. It is suggested that the doctor has caused the death of a patient and other doctors, particularly those interested in having their name associated with the discovery and ever increasing use of chloroform, are eager to blacken his name. Sarah is adamant that the doctor played no part in the death of this patient and asks Will for help in clearing Dr Simpson’s name.
I loved the way the authors effortlessly blends fact with fiction within this series. Here touching on the competitiveness and rivalry of medical professionals of the era. Sometimes putting their own desire for prestige above anything else!
On investigating these rumours Will notices a connection to another set of deaths within another household and wonders if he has discovered a new type of disease. Getting carried away with his own need for prestige he starts to veer off from the investigation with dreams of naming a new disease after himself. However, Sarah soon pulls him back on track and the duo start to find themselves involved in something far more horrific. Could all these and other recent deaths be connected?? The book is cleverly interspersed with short passages, written in the first person, based on the real life story of a 19th century Nurse named ‘Angel of Death’ allowing the reader inside the mind of a murderer. As the story marvellously unfolds we find out how this and all of Sarah and Will’s discovers are linked.
This book has so much content, with lots of wonderful sub plots like Sarah and Will’s friendship, the old versus new ways of medicine and Will’s involvement with the dirty world of money-lenders. There is never a dull moment! If you have yet to read The Way Of All Flesh, this reads perfectly well as a standalone novel. Rich in period details and setting, I found this a wonderfully written murder mystery.
What next for Will and Sarah? I for one can not wait to find out!
Ambrose Parry is a pseudonym for a collaboration between Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Heatzman.
The Art of Dying is published by Canongate Books and is out in hardback today! (29th August 2019)
Thank you to Jamie Norman and the publishers for my gorgeous hardback copy.