Published: 06 December 2019 06 December 2019

The Art of DyingA fascinating and seamless blend of fiction and historical fact, The Art of Dying is set in 1850s Edinburgh when advances in medicine due to the use of chloroform are starting to make themselves felt. It is told from the viewpoints of Will Raven, Sarah Fisher and an anonymous voice we later find out belongs to the killer; her identity is not in question, but can they catch her before any one else dies?

Now back in Edinburgh and working for Dr James Young Simpson, Will is a product of his time with regard to his attitudes to women; but he soon learns what Sarah is capable of. He is still young and a bit impulsive, but he thinks about his actions and learns from his mistakes – you can’t help but like him. Sarah feels confined and frustrated by the restrictions placed on her (and all women) by these narrow Victorian attitudes. She dreams of going on to greater things, and takes inspiration from the few pioneers who have blazed a trail, defied expectations, and risen above the limitations placed on them by a patriarchal society to become something more than just a wife and mother. There is a sense that long-overdue change is coming.

A cast of believable, well-rounded characters bring the story to life, and we see both extremes of life in Victorian Scotland – the genteel life of the middle-classes, and the squalid living conditions of the poor.  

It was only after I had finished reading The Art of Dying that I discovered it was the second in a series. I did not affect my understanding, but I will certainly read The Way of All Flesh next and hope there will be a third instalment before too long. The main reason I chose to read this book was that Ambrose Parry is a collaboration between Chris Brookmyre and his wife Dr Marisa Haezman. I love the Jack Parlabane series written by Chris, and knew this would also be a great read; I was not wrong. Thanks to Canongate and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for an honest review.