Book Review: The Art of Dying

The Art of Dying by Ambrose Parry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

DISCLAIMER: I received an advanced reader copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Following on from last year’s The Way of All Flesh, this is the second outing by the writing duo of Dr. Marisa Haetzman and Christopher Brookmyre under the pen-name of Ambrose Parry, and it’s at least as good as their first.

The novel opens three years after the first, with Will Raven gallivanting around Europe with his friend Henry as part of an educational tour. Following a foiled robbery in the streets of Berlin, Raven returns to Edinburgh expecting to more-or-less pick up his life where he left off. Unfortunately, things have changed more than he could have expected, with Sarah having married in his absence and Professor Simpson facing serious allegations of malpractice that could lead to the loss of his great reputation.

Amidst the drama of Raven’s attempts to rebuild his life and Sarah’s attempts to clear the Professor’s good name, a killer works in the shadows, cleverly hiding the evidence of their macabre occupation. In brief first-person interludes we are shown that the killer in question is a woman, and one born to low status at that, but because she hides her tracks so well it takes half of the narrative before either of the main protagonists even come close to suspecting anything other than innocent answers to the mystery surrounding the sudden spate of deaths they have uncovered.

As with the first novel, this one works best when it’s showing us the details, the little things that make Sarah and Will’s actions so frustratingly understandable. Even though we as the reader know there’s murder afoot, we’re dragged along by the two of them almost stumbling from one revelation to the next, and when they finally do put the pieces together and figure out what’s going on you can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief. Of course, that relief is only short-lived, as there’s still a good third or so of the book to go before they catch the culprit, and there are more than enough setbacks before the end of the story to keep the reader going.

It has to be said that this book is somewhat darker than the first. The stakes for both of the main characters become much more personal in this one, with both of them having to deal with some pretty heavy situations at various points throughout. I don’t want to give too much away but you might want to make sure you have a hanky or two at hand before you sit down to read this one.

As I mention at the top of this review, I’d say this one is at least as good as the first, perhaps even just a touch better. The structure and pacing are different enough from the first to keep you on the edge of your seat for a lot of the book, and once again the attention to historical detail is superlative, with the core plot of the novel being loosely based on real events from the time, albeit geographically transplanted for the sake of the story. I’m not quite ready to give it four and a half stars, but it’s not far off. If there’s a third one coming along next year then I’ll definitely be adding it to my pre-order list as soon as it appears.

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