The Art of Dying is a historical medical mystery about unexplained deaths and medical rivalries set in Edinburgh, the follow up to The Way of All Flesh by husband and wife writing team Ambrose Parry. Will Raven and Sarah Fisher are back, with Will now Dr Simpson’s assistant and Sarah trying to expand her position giving medical help to the doctor despite the limitations placed on women. Dr Simpson’s reputation is in trouble after one of his patients died in circumstances that other doctors have claimed are suspicious, but looking into this causes Raven and Sarah to uncover a lot more mysterious deaths and find some unlikely possible causes for them. At the same time, Raven continues to evade his pursuers and worry about his own nature, whilst Sarah has new troubles to worry about.
The first in the series was most interesting for its look at class and gender in the period, and the sequel certainly focuses on the latter, looking at the position of women in society and in the roles they can take. Once again, anaesthesia plays an important role in the novel, with Simpson’s focus on chloroform still present, though there is slightly less of the medical focus as in the first one (or at least it feels like there is). The mystery narrative is unravelled using a good trope that allows for a few twists, and a wide cast of characters are kept up (though it feels very much like a book in a series for not resolving a number of side plots).
Historical mystery fans will likely enjoy this follow up, which combines a range of interesting characters with some real historical inspiration and a dark series of murders. Not one for the squeamish, but for people who like some historical research alongside the mystery.