Category: Historical, Medical, Mystery, Crime, Book Review
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.
In this sequel to The Way of All Flesh, which I really enjoyed, we find Will Raven in Europe, studying and learning, becoming a fully qualified doctor.
When Raven learns Dr James Young Simpson, renowned for his advances in pain management during surgery, is offering him the position of his new assistant, he looks forward to returning to Edinburgh and the prospect of seeing Sarah again. They had formed an attachment when Raven was apprentice to Dr Simpson but, with an exaggerated opinion of himself, had dismissed the notion of marriage. When he arrives however, things are not as he expects. It’s not only Raven’s circumstances that have changed.
Raven was gripped by panic, his disappointed heart thumping again and his guts churning. What had happened to Sarah? Was she dead? He would surely have been told if something catastrophic had befallen her. Then he remembered all of his unsent letters. Perhaps no one would have thought to inform him. After all, they had endeavoured to keep their connection concealed.
Sarah is no longer the housemaid at 52 Queen Street. She now assists Dr Simpson during his clinic and, much to Raven’s shock and sorrow, is married and mistress of her own house. Raven berates himself for not keeping in contact with Sarah. It also appears that Dr Simpson is having problems of his own, being accused ofnegligence by his peers after the sudden death of a patient under his care. Sarah believes none of it and resolves to clear his name, she hopes with Raven’s help.
Meanwhile a growing spate of deaths, from unknown and unexplainable symptoms, makes Raven wonder if he is about to discover a new disease and possibly make his name. Sarah has other ideas and Raven gradually realises Sarah’s theory makes more sense. Their subsequent investigations take them into very dangerous territory.
The Art of Dying is rich in evocative historical detail, mixing fact with fiction, and follows the fortunes of the characters from The Way of All Flesh. Historical fiction that incorporates authentic figures and events is intriguing and lends a very realistic edge to the story. Victorian Edinburgh is portrayed with atmospheric flair, the inequalities, medical practicesand procedures, the marked distinction between classes and areas of the city.
Several chapters come from the initially unknown antagonist, made all the more chilling because it was based on a true historical figure. The cast of characters are distinctive and well formed. Sarah is a woman ahead of her time, well read and ambitious, holding on to her dreams of living her life as she wishes and becoming a doctor despite the limitations placed on women. Raven begins to mellow towards the surprising conclusion, realising there are more important things than his reputation. Dr James Young Simpson is a real and important figure who discovered the anaesthetic qualities of chloroform.
For me, The Art of Dying has a slight edge over the previous book. I found it to be a compelling read, the historical aspect immersive and look forward to more adventures with Sarah and Raven.
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.