The Art of Dying is the second book in a series by Ambrose Parry, a pseudonym for writer duo, Chris Brookmyre and Dr Marisa Haetzman. The former is the author of a number of crime bestsellers and partner Haetzman is a consultant anaesthetist. In their latest book readers will recognise the now familiar pair of Will Raven and Sarah Fisher from The Way of All Flesh.
The writers have come into themselves with this novel. As the reader reembraces the characters in 19th century Edinburgh, the city itself comes alive, to speak through the pages of the book. The research into the city’s geography is well-rewarded, as the incidents become stamps on the salubrity of areas. On Queen Street, we are reunited with Dr Simpson, who must deal with the tarnish on his reputation as a practitioner of medicine. Meanwhile, Will is back from his travels, only to find that all is not the same in Edinburgh. In facing his past, Raven must reconcile his emotions with the expectations placed on him by society.
Simpson’s fiery housemaid Sarah, has a fantastic character arc. The writers admitted at the Edinburgh Book Festival this year that they had received some flak for Sarah being ‘too feminist’ for her time. It is perhaps for this reason that Sarah dons a more staid approach in this book. However, it could all be a ruse too. She uses her stature to get what she wants, as is evident in the last few chapters when she embraces her inner fire again.
Two writing techniques serve this novel excellently. The first is that it is written as a memoir of the villain, no spoilers there. By doing so, the reader is immediately thrust into knowing the sinister motives of the crime. The second technique is revealing the criminal to the reader before the protagonists. There is a certain thrill in waiting for Will and Sarah to catch up.
The writers have already promised not only a third, but a fourth instalment leaving a lot to look forward to with the personal stories and major medical breakthroughs of the time.