The Art of Dying by Ambrose Parry

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.

A Dark So Deadly by Stuart MacBride

A Dark So DeadlyNothing is going right for DC Callum MacGregor. He has been accused of compromising a crime-scene that results in a notorious villain going free and him being sent to join the ‘misfit mob’ as punishment. From then on things only go from bad to worse! The team are working on a gruesome case (no spoilers) but cope with black humour (quite often at Callum’s expense).  The realistic dialogue and believable characters result in a gripping story that keeps you guessing right to the end. 

A Dark So Deadly is a stand-alone police procedural from the creator of the well-loved Logan McRae series of books. Stuart MacBride keeps his readers guessing with plot twists and red herrings galore; I completely failed to spot the identity of the killer until all was revealed in the last few chapters. I have only awarded four stars as it was quite slow to get going and I nearly gave up. I also found the fictitious setting unsatisfactory as the sense of place was nowhere near as strong as in the books set in Aberdeen.  A common thread among reviewers is that the book is very long but considering it weaves together several complicated plot lines this is not surprising; it never seemed overlong to me as I was caught up in the narrative, hoping they would succeed and save Ashlee in time.

Thanks to Netgalley and HarperCollins for a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

A Cornish Summer by Catherine Alliott

A Cornish SummerI seem to be saying this about a lot of writers recently, but I have loved Catherine Alliott’s novels right from the first one, The Old-Girl Network.

In A Cornish Summer, her narrative voice is very distinctive and the sense of place is vividly evoked; she creates a believable world and pulls you in.

This story of a dysfunctional family, and the secrets that they keep, is told through Flora’s eyes. She is finally forced to confront her inappropriate feelings for her ex-husband, and move on with her life. The characters are well written and the subject matter is quite serious at times; this is no light-hearted romance novel, but it will make you want to go to Cornwall for your holidays!

Thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley for a review copy.

A Convenient Fiction by Mimi Matthews

A Convenient Fiction by Mimi MatthewsHaving thoroughly enjoyed The Work of Art, I was eager to read another of Mimi’s books set in the Victorian era. This is the third in the Parish Orphans of Devon series and is the story of Alex Archer – one of four young orphaned boys connected by a mysterious past that is only revealed a little bit at a time. I have not read the other books in the series but did not feel that this was a problem. While it would be better to read them in order (and I will when my TBR pile goes down a bit), A Convenient Fiction works just as well as a standalone. Set in Surrey in 1860, Alex accompanies George Wright on a visit home in the hope of marrying local heiress, Henrietta Talbot. On the way to the vicarage, he rescues Laura Hayes, whose life he believes is in danger; she is simply practising breathing underwater and is not impressed. Laura is a friend of Henrietta’s and is called on to act as chaperone, and so the four of them spend a lot of time together.

I found the story quite slow to start with, and it was hard to imagine how Alex and Laura could ever be together, but it is testament to the author’s storytelling skills how well she is able to pull this off.  My only slight criticism is the occasional use of US English in a book set in the UK. The characters are well-rounded and believable. There are echoes of the world of Charles Dickens in the thread about the dishonest lawyer, and of Jane Austen in the care Alex takes to help Laura’s aunt and brother. By the time his past is fully uncovered, Alex is revealed to be, ironically, a much better man than George. One of the highlights of the book is the trip to Margate with the bathing machines and the people sitting on the beach using telescopes to admire the bathers.

Thanks to the author for a copy that I review on behalf of Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT