Ambrose Parry - The Way of All the Flesh (3 stars)

Ambrose Parry - The Way of All the Flesh

Debut novel for Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman writing under a pen-name

Dispensing with the cagey Robert Galbraith school of taking pseudonyms, in which JK Rowling tried to pass off the fact that the crime novelist of Strike series fame wasn't actually her for a time, Ambrose Parry has been upfront right from the beginning. 'He' is the pen-name of married couple Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman; Brookmyre, of course, being the extensively published Scots author of thrillers including Quite Ugly One Morning and All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses an Eye.

While the authoring game is Brookmyre's trade, this 'debut' novel for Parry seems to have come more from Haetzman's interests and specialisms. A consultant anaesthetist in the NHS for twenty years, she also has a Master's degree in the History of Medicine, in which she studied the early use of anaesthesia. In Victorian times, apparently, this was a real-life tale which involved the Royal family, the clergy and the intersection with any number of historic medical procedures which we may now consider barbaric.

All of which forms the backdrop to The Way of All Flesh, a Victorian crime thriller set in 1847 which bears elements of comparison to similarly murderous artefacts of Victoriana as the Burke and Hare murders or Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's psycho-geographic graphic novel about Jack the Ripper, From Hell. There are two protagonists here, as there are two writers; in the beginning, new medical student Will Raven, and subsequently housemaid Sarah Fisher, both in the employ of the real-life Doctor James Simpson, and neither entirely a fan of one another to start off with.

Young women are being murdered in violent circumstances, and the pair are drawn into the hunt. As with each of Brookmyre's books, the thriller aspect is only part of the fun, with his distinctive narrative tone providing an easy read. The narrative style here involves a crisp Victorian tone, with characters who are bold and distinctive, and a thread of black humour woven throughout; the sense of an Edinburgh socially and geographically developing into the one we know now adds extra flavour to a foot-finding first instalment in what has the potential to become a series.

Out now, published by Canongate Books.

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