Today, I’m happy to be on the closing day of this blog tour for The Art of Dying. This interesting mix of murder mystery, historical/ medical drama and romance, creeps up on you slowly, until you’re determined to keep reading and see whether a killer is stalking the sick of Edinburgh. In fact at what point I couldn’t decide what I wanted to know more: would the killer face justice, would Raven reconcile with the woman he loved, who was stealing money from the surgery, would Sarah live and what the hell was Quinton up to? It’s hard to sleep with all that going round in your brain! I hadn’t read the first novel featuring Dr. Wilberforce Raven, but it was easy to catch up with this instalment set in Edinburgh in 1849. We really do hit the ground running as Raven is attacked in an alley way in Prague. In the dark and confusion one of the attackers draws a gun, Raven draws his knife and a shot rings out ricocheting off the narrow brick walls. Raven slashes his knife in the air from left to right. He thinks he made contact with an attackers throat, but he doesn’t know if he struck a fatal blow and doesn’t know who is shot.
This chaotic existence seems to be the way Raven lives, but will it follow him back to the streets of Edinburgh. He’s been offered a place under the prestigious obstetrician Dr. Simpson, who he trained under at medical school. He’s looking forward to being back in Edinburgh and in the hospitable, but slightly chaotic, family household. He’s also looking forward to getting away from the guilt that he may well have killed a man in Prague. The only downside involves women. He will be leaving Gabrielle behind – the woman he’s been seeing in Prague – but they’ve both known it was a short term relationship. More pressing than that, he’s wondering whether Sarah is still part of Dr. Simpson’s household. Sarah was originally the Simpson’s housemaid, but did assist the doctor in clinic at times. Raven was attracted to her intelligence and determination. They seemed drawn together by an invisible bond and the closer he gets to his old city, he can feel that bond tugging again. They way they’d been in the past, Sarah might have confidently expected a proposal and had it just been about love, Raven would have had no qualms. However, as a young doctor starting out in a profession where reputation is everything, could he risk marrying a house maid? What would Edinburgh society think and would he be risking his career?
I can’t say I warmed to Raven as a character. I found him arrogant and apt to jump to conclusions, especially where it would benefit him. More importantly, I found him cowardly. Especially in his dealings with Sarah. I had such a moment of satisfaction when he enquired after Sarah when arriving, using her maiden name. When the new house maid explains she is now Mrs Sarah Banks, I actually smiled. To find out that her new husband, Archie Banks, is also a doctor and has a comfortable lifestyle, is a huge life lesson for Raven. Here was a man with strength of his convictions. He had loved Sarah and married her, with no regard to his position or social standing. Of course, we find out later on, that Archie has a reason for not caring about such things but he’s still a man of honour. Sarah is an intelligent, but also perceptive woman, and this is her advantage as she and Raven come together to restore Dr Simpson’s reputation. During a difficult delivery, Simpson is rumoured to have missed a haemorrhage and the dead woman’s mattress was said to be so soaked with blood it had to be disposed of. Simpson expressly asks Raven not to look into the matter and certainly not to bother the grieving widower in his defence. Raven even has the odd worry about Simpson himself, especially his potential overuse of chloroform – Raven is served a drink laced with it on his first evening. Sarah, however, feels that Simpson is a good doctor and that there is something else underlying this need to discredit him.
This is not the only investigation going on in the household. A new employee, Mr. Quinton, is there to look after the admin and keep the books for the practice. Unofficially, he is trying to find the culprit for money going missing in the house. He wants to book drugs in and out too, and research patterns in the practice’s spending. There’s something about his persnickety nature and constant presence that’s very off putting. He doesn’t work in harmony with the house, but rather against it. He isn’t at the Uriah Heap level of obsequiousness, but that’s who I kept thinking of when he came into the story. I liked how the author brought in all these levels of surveillance. Quinton watches the household and practice, but he’s been under the steely eye of the butler since he arrived. Sarah is watching both Dr. Simpson, but also stumbles into another investigation while trying to clear his name. Raven is being watched, but is also watching others with Sarah. Their focus is split though: Sarah thinks Simpson’s name can be cleared and as the deaths pile up, the same name keeps cropping up, a nurse called Mary who has cared for people who seem to have lost their lives in suspicious circumstances. A sudden illness that involves seizures, unconsciousness, fatigue and weakness appears out of the blue, killing people in a matter of hours. Could this Angel of Mercy be an Angel of Death? Or could there be a rare new disease for Raven to discover? He daydreams about the acclaim it could bring if he has uncovered an unidentified disease. With the title Raven’s Malady running through his head, the two are on the look out for different things, but who will be proved right? More importantly will the investigators themselves be safe, as they trail all over Edinburgh to find answers?
If we add to this: a moneylender with a giant as his right hand man and some unexpected debtors on his books; a pregnancy; a bereavement; and a breakneck race to save someone’s life. The book is definitely jam packed with incident and tension, whether that be the tension of the race to find our culprit or the more ‘slow burn’ tension between Raven and Sarah. Our writers leave us with enough answers to feel satisfied and enough cliffhangers to look forward to the next book. This isn’t an easy balance to strike and I felt it was well – judged here. I was intrigued by the period detail when it came to surgery and obstetrics. I found myself won over by most of the characters. Sarah leapt off the page and when I read Mary’s chapters I was drawn into her upbringing and the terrible effect this had on her psychologically. This is a series I will look forward to revisiting and maybe even Raven might win me over next time.
Meet The Authors
This book is the second in the series featuring Dr Raven. This one is published by Canongate (Blackthorn) and will be available on March 2nd 2021. Ambrose Parry is a pseudonym for a collaboration between Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman. The couple are married and live in Glasgow.
Chris Brookmyre is the international bestselling and multi-award-winning author of over twenty novels, including Black Widow, winner of both the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year and the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year.
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 The Way of All Flesh was based.