Book Review: The Art of Dying by Ambrose Parry

The Art of Dying…

About the Book:

The second gripping historical crime novel set in 19th century Edinburgh, co-written by bestselling author Chris Brookmyre and consultant anaesthetist Dr Marisa Haetzman.

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.

My Thoughts:

What a book! I’ve always favoured historical fiction set within the Victorian era, and this novel is an example of why. The Art of Dying is the follow up to The Way of All Flesh and just like its predecessor it’s about medicine, mayhem, and madness, all playing out with gripping certainty against a gritty Victorian Edinburgh background.

‘Every woman has felt the fear that derives from her own weakness before men whose greater power derives from a stature that is not merely physical.’

Just as in The Way of All Flesh, I relished all of the medical parts of this story. Obstetrics is still very much a non-surgical field as abdominal surgery is deeply frowned upon by the ‘establishment’. Yet Will Raven is convinced that many patients could benefit from a change in attitude about this, particularly women suffering from ovarian cysts and tumours, as well as those suffering ectopic pregnancies. The pioneering aspect of medicine within this era is something I find particularly fascinating. There was still a great deal of resistance to progress and innovation, and women were still barred from studying the field, much less even practising as a doctor. Sarah Fisher’s circumstances have changed markedly since the previous book and she finds herself in a position of being able to seriously consider travelling abroad so that she can set about becoming something quite rare: a female doctor.

‘For this I know: every true demon was once a child, one that knew fear and suffering. Every true demon learned cruelty and evil at the hands of another.’

Events within the book orbit around a medical mystery that soon reveals itself to be the work of a serial killer. What I loved about this was that it wasn’t so much a who-dunnit – we know exactly who it is fairly early on – but rather a why-dunnit. As the story unfolds, more about this killer is revealed, in pieces, from childhood through to the present day, and it is an extremely disturbing story, all the more so because it is based on an historical crime that took place in New England during the 19th century.

This is historical fiction at its gothic Victorian best. I don’t recommend reading The Art of Dying as a stand-alone though. You will get far more enjoyment out of it as a follow-up to The Way of All Flesh.


Thanks is extended to Allen & Unwin for providing me with a copy of The Art of Dying for review.

About the Author:

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 Art of Dying is the second book in the series.

The Art of Dying
Published by Allen & Unwin (Canongate)
Released 5th November 2019

See my review of the first book in this series, The Way of All Flesh, here.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: The Art of Dying by Ambrose Parry

  1. I’ve never heard of this series, but it sounds great. I think it would be interesting and refreshing to read about Victorian Edinburgh rather than London for a change. I’ll certainly keep an eye out for both books in the series.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: #BookBingo2020 – Round 7: Set in an era you’d love to travel back in time to | Theresa Smith Writes

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