A Corruption of Blood by Ambrose Parry

Canongate Books| 19th August 2021| 405 pages| Review Copy| 5*

This is the third book in Ambrose Parry’s historical series starring Will Raven & Sarah Fisher, set in 19th century Edinburgh. I loved the other books, The Way of All Flesh and The Art of Dying and A Corruption of Blood is equally as good, if not better.

Description

Edinburgh. This city will bleed you dry.

Dr Will Raven is a man seldom shocked by human remains, but even he is disturbed by the contents of a package washed up at the Port of Leith. Stranger still, a man Raven has long detested is pleading for his help to escape the hangman.

Back at 52 Queen Street, Sarah Fisher has set her sights on learning to practise medicine. Almost everyone seems intent on dissuading her from this ambition, but when word reaches her that a woman has recently obtained a medical degree despite her gender, Sarah decides to seek her out.

Raven’s efforts to prove his erstwhile adversary’s innocence are failing and he desperately needs Sarah’s help. Putting their feelings for one another aside, their investigations will take them to both extremes of Edinburgh’s social divide, where they discover that wealth and status cannot alter a fate written in the blood.

Ambrose Parry is the pseudonym of crime fiction author, Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman, a consultant anaesthetist. Will is a doctor working with Doctor James Young Simpson, a professor of midwifery, who discovered the anaesthetic properties of chloroform (a real historical character), and Sarah, is the Simpsons’ housemaid, but she now assists Professor Simpson and is studying medicine. The two of them have a complicated and somewhat spiky relationship, which continues in this novel.

The combination of a crime fiction writer and an anaesthetist works excellently in Ambrose Parry’s novels. The research into the history of medicine is extensive, making this book a combination of historical fact and fiction, a tale of murder and medical matters, with the social scene, historical and medical facts slotting perfectly into an intricate murder mystery. 

The mystery begins when the body of a baby wrapped in a parcel, is found floating in the Forth. The child had been strangled with a length of white tape. Sarah meanwhile is involved in finding a missing child. When Sir Ainsley Douglas, a prominent and wealthy member of Edinburgh society is found dead from arsenic poisoning, Will reluctantly gets involved in the murder investigation. How the mysteries interlink gradually becomes clear and although I soon realised how Sir Ainsley had been murdered, I was puzzled about who did it and was completely taken by surprise when the culprit was revealed.

Like all good historical fiction, this book weaves together fact and fiction. The Historical Note at the end of the book sorts out what was real and what was invented. The subjects covered include details about infectious diseases, the difficulties women experienced in obtaining a medical degree, and crimes children suffered in the 19th century. I think A Corruption of Blood is an exceptionally excellent murder mystery and an informative historical novel, with great period detail and convincing characters. I look forward to reading more books by Ambrose Parry.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on My Fall 2021 To-read List

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog. This week’s topic is Books on My Fall 2021 To-read List.

Not easy when I have so many books I want to read. These are the first ten that came to mind, but this is not a reading plan and I could just as easily read other books this autumn:

First two novellas:

Another Part of the Wood by Beryl Bainbridge – 159 pages -literary fiction set In a remote cottage in Wales where two urban couples are spending their holiday with the idealistic owner and his protege. The beginning is idyllic but catastrophe lurks behind every tree.

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay 189 pages – a novel for the reader to decide if it’s fact or fiction. On St Valentine’s Day in 1900, nineteen girls and two schoolmistresses visit Hanging Rock. Some were never to return.

Two books from my NetGalley shelf:

Just Like the Other Girls by Claire Douglas – standalone psychological thriller. Una Richardson’s heart is broken after the death of her mother. Seeking a place to heal, she responds to an advertisement and steps into the rich, comforting world of Elspeth McKenzie. But Elspeth’s home is not as safe as it seems.

The Girl Who Died by Ragnar Jónasson, a standalone novel. After the loss of her father, Una sees a chance to escape Reykjavík to tutor two girls in the tiny village of Skálar – population just ten – on Iceland’s storm-battered north coast. The creaky old house where they live is playing on her already fragile mind when she’s convinced she hears the ghostly sound of singing. Then, at midwinter, a young girl is found dead.

Two books from my TBR list:

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel, the final novel in her Wolf Hall trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, tracing his final years. I wanted to read this so much when I bought it (in 2020) and it has sat around the house ever since, but it’s a hardback copy and I keep putting off reading it. If I don’t read this soon it will be 2022 before I get round to it.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, which I bought in 2013! It’s about Harold’s journey on foot from one end of the country to the other – from South Devon to Berwick-upon-Tweed and I was intrigued. I wondered which places he went through. It’s definitely time I read this.

And finally two more recent acquisitions:

Another Journey Through Britain by Mark Gregory Probert. He follows the route taken by John Hillaby in his 1960s book Journey through Britain. The ride starts from rugged Land’s End in south-west England and ends up at the wild north-east coast of Scotland at John o’Groats. Buying this book is what made me remember I haven’t read Rachel Joyce’s novel, also about a journey through Britain.

The Bass Rock by Evie Wyld, a novel that weaves together the lives of three women in three different eras, linked by the Bass Rock, an island in the Firth of Forth, north-east of North Berwick. There’s Sarah in the 1700s accused of being a witch, Ruth, newly married in 1955 to a widower, Peter, and Viv, Peter’s granddaughter, in the present day.

Novellas in November 2021

I’ve collected together a selection of novellas in advance of Novellas in November, hosted by Cathy of 746 Books and Rebecca of BookishBeck. These are all books of under 200 pages.

From top to bottom they are (I’ve given the actual page numbers in my copies):

  • Another Part of the Wood by Beryl Bainbridge – 159 pages -literary fiction set In a remote cottage in Wales where two urban couples are spending their holiday with the idealistic owner and his protege. The beginning is idyllic but catastrophe lurks behind every tree.
  • The Great Divorce by C S Lewis – 118 pages – a fable and allegory in which the writer, in a dream, boards a bus on a drizzly afternoon and embarks on an incredible voyage through Heaven and Hell.
  • The Invasion of the Moon 1969: the Story pf Apollo 11 by Peter Ryan – 189 pages, non fiction about the flight of Apollo 11 and the men who went to the moon and back.
  • Rebus’s Scotland by Ian Rankin – 131 pages (not including the photographs). Ian Rankin’s guide to the places in Scotland that have provided inspiration for his bestselling Inspector Rebus novels.
  • The Sovereignty of Good by Iris Murdoch – 105 pages, philosophy – three essays, exploring questions of good and bad, and myth and morality.
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay 189 pages – a novel for the reader to decide if it’s fact or fiction. On St Valentine’s Day in 1900, nineteen girls and two schoolmistresses visit Hanging Rock. Some were never to return. 
  • On Chesil Beach 166 pages by Ian McEwan, It is July 1962. Edward and Florence, young innocents married that morning, arrive at a hotel on the Dorset coast. At dinner in their rooms they struggle to suppress their private fears of the wedding night to come. The events of that evening will haunt them for the rest of their lives. (This will be a re-read)
  • A Life of Walter Scott: The Laird of Abbotsford by A N Wilson 185 pages, ‘weaving together the life and the works, and discussing all Scott’s best-known books as well as many which are less familiar.

Index, A History of the by Dennis Duncan

Penguin| 19 August 2021| 339 pages| Review copy| 4*

Synopsis:

Most of us give little thought to the back of the book – it’s just where you go to look things up. But here, hiding in plain sight, is an unlikely realm of ambition and obsession, sparring and politicking, pleasure and play. Here we might find Butchers, to be avoided, or Cows that sh-te Fire, or even catch Calvin in his chamberwithaNonne. This is the secret world of the index: an unsung but extraordinary everyday tool, with an illustrious but little-known past. Here, for the first time, its story is told.

Charting its curious path from the monasteries and universities of thirteenth-century Europe to Silicon Valley in the twenty-first, Dennis Duncan reveals how the index has saved heretics from the stake, kept politicians from high office and made us all into the readers we are today. We follow it through German print shops and Enlightenment coffee houses, novelists’ living rooms and university laboratories, encountering emperors and popes, philosophers and prime ministers, poets, librarians and – of course – indexers along the way. Revealing its vast role in our evolving literary and intellectual culture, Duncan shows that, for all our anxieties about the Age of Search, we are all index-rakers at heart, and we have been for eight hundred years.

My thoughts:

This book is not just about the history of the index, but also about the history of reading and the evolution of the book from the scrolls, manuscripts and the codex before the the invention of printing – how they were produced and used. I was interested in reading it as I’m an ex-librarian and cataloguer, later an assistant in a county record office where a large part of my job involved indexing. If you think like me that an index is an indispensable part of a non fiction book then you’ll enjoy this book, which is both informative and entertaining. And I often wish fiction books were indexed too – one of the advantages of an e-book is that you can search the text, even better if it has the X-Ray feature.

It explains the difference between the index and the table of contents, goes into the evolution of page numbers and the problems of alphabetisation. This is not a dry, factual account it is written with humour and insights into the past, using examples from historical texts, and from indexes complied as satirical attacks on their authors. I never knew indexes had been used as weapons! Nor did I know that some works of fiction had been indexed in the past – full details in Chapter 6 ‘Indexing Fictions: Naming was Always a Difficult Art’, quoting from Lewis Carroll’s works. Carroll was fascinated with indexes, leaning particularly towards the whimsical, using his logician’s wit.

Neither is it stuck in the far distant past, Duncan brings it up to date in the digital age and the ubiquity of the search engine with the rise of anxiety that this is changing our brains, shortening our attention spans and eroding our capacity for memory. But this, Duncan explains is nothing new as the history of the index shows that there have always been fears that nobody will read properly any more when they could just use an index to replace the ways of close reading. The ways we read have changed over the generations.

The Index, a History of the is simply fascinating.

About the Author

Dennis Duncan is a writer, translator and lecturer in English at University College London. He has published numerous academic books, including Book Parts and The Oulipo and Modern Thought, as well as translations of Michel Foucault, Boris Vian, and Alfred Jarry. His writing has appeared in the Guardian, the Times Literary Supplement, and the London Review of Books, and recent articles have considered Mallarmé and jugs, James Joyce and pornography, and the history of Times New Roman. 

The Survivors by Jane Harper

Jane Harper’s The Survivors is out in paperback today.

I read a review copy in October last year. Set in Evelyn Bay on the island of Tasmania, Bronte, a waitress at the Surf and Turf bar, is found dead on the beach, which stirs up memories of the events of twelve years ago. Just who and what the ‘Survivors‘ are plays a major role in the story – along with the sea, the caves and the tides. It’s a slow-burner at first, that turns into an emotionally charged book rather than one of high tension and suspense. Once it got going I just had to read on.

Jane Harper is one of my favourite authors. I can recommend her earlier books too –The Dry, Force of Nature and The Lost Man, which all had me enthralled.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books with Numbers in the Titles

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog. This week’s topic is Books with Numbers in the Titles.

I did a top ten post in October 2019 on Book Titles with Numbers in Them, using the numbers 1 – 10, so for this week’s topic I decided to use different numbers. These are all books I’ve read.

The numbers are 0, 4.50, 11, 12.30, 13, 17, 39, 70, 100 and 1,000.

Towards Zero by Agatha Christie – an intricately plotted murder mystery featuring Superintendent Battle, in which a group of lawyers discuss a recent case at the Old Bailey. One of them puts forward the idea that murder is not the beginning of a detective story, but the end, that murder is the culmination of causes and events that bring together certain people, converging towards a certain place and time, towards the Zero Hour – ‘towards zero’. A thoroughly puzzling murder mystery.

4.50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie, another murder mystery, this time featuring Miss Marple. It’s an intriguing puzzle about a murder on a train, because you know there has been a murder, and that the victim was a woman but her identity is not known, until much later in the book. You also know that the murderer is a man and there are plenty of male suspects to consider. 

Agatha Christie and the Eleven Missing Days by Jared Cade. In December 1926 Agatha Christie disappeared from her home, Styles, in Berkshire. She was found eleven days later in a hotel in Harrogate, Yorkshire apparently suffering from amnesia. Jared Cade delves into the mystery of her disappearance and reveals how those eleven days and the events that led up to her disappearance influenced the rest of her life.

The 12.30 from Croydon by Freeman Wills Croft begins with a murder but the identity of the murderer is known before he even thought of committing the crime. Set in the early 1930s when the country is suffering the effects of the ‘slump’, unlike the 4.50 from Paddington, the 12.30 from Croydon is not a train, but a plane. Charles Swinburne is on the edge of bankruptcy, and he is unable to raise the money to keep his business going, so he sets about murdering his uncle, Andrew Crowther, in order to inherit his fortune.

Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer. Moving at a fast pace this book follows the events during the thirteen hours from 05:36 when Rachel, a young American girl is running for her life up the steep slope of Lion’s Head in Capetown.  DI Benny Griessel is mentoring two inexperienced detectives who are investigating these crimes. With a strong sense of location it reflects the racial tension in the ‘new South Africa’ with its mix of white, coloured and black South Africans.It’s tense, taut and utterly enthralling. 

The Verneys: A True Story of Love, War and Madness in Seventeenth Century England by Adrian Tinniswood is set in a period of political and social upheaval, revolution, war, plague, famine and fire. The book starts with the death of Sir Francis Verney at Messina in 1615 and moves through the seventeenth century to the death of Sir Ralph Verney at Claydon House in 1696. The Verney family history is told through from the family archives and tens of thousands of their letters and placing it within the national context.

The Thirty Nine Steps by John Buchan, a fast moving action-story, beginning with an international conspiracy, involving anarchists, financiers and German spies. Richard Hannay, having found Scudder, murdered in his London flat, fears for his life and goes on the run, chased by villains in a series of exciting episodes, culminating in the discovery of the location of the ‘thirty-nine steps’. 

When the Lights went out: Britain in the Seventies by Andy Beckett, a journalist, a very detailed book, using original material such as diaries, letters, personal memoirs as well as books written about the period. I particularly liked the personal, face-to-face interviews with some of the key figures such as Ted Heath,  and Beckett’s assessments of politicians such as Margaret Thatcher in 1975 when she was a contender for the leadership of the Conservative Party. He described the crises Britain faced then – the economic crises, the floods, food shortages, terrorism, and the destruction of the environment. So, what has changed?

100 Days on Holy Island: a Writer’s Exile by Peter Mortimer, a playwright and a poet. He went to Holy Island with the intention of seeing how he coped with living there for one hundred days and writing about it. His time on Holy Island was from January to April 2001, when foot and mouth disease swept through the UK, and although it never got to Holy Island it was affected by the closure of the countryside. The islanders were hit by the threat to the tourist trade. It was freezing cold, blasted by snow storms and afflicted by power cuts. 

A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry, a sequel to Days Without End this continues the story of Thomas McNulty and John Cole, and Winona, the young Indian girl they had adopted. It’s set in the 1870s, some years after the end of the Civil War in Tennessee, about seven miles from a little town called Paris. The town was still full of rough Union soldiers and vagabonds on every little byway. Dark skin and black hair were enough to get you beaten up – and it wasn’t a crime to beat an Indian. After Winona was brutally attacked she set out for revenge. And in so doing she began to remember more about her early life and about her mother, a strong Lakota woman, full of courage and pride.

Book Beginnings & The Friday 56: The Library of the Dead by T L Huchu

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

This week I’m featuring The Library of the Dead by T L Huchu, the first book in the Edinburgh Nights series. It’s fantasy, set in a future or alternative Edinburgh, with a wealth of dark secrets in its underground. Teenager Ropa, has dropped out of school to become a ghost talker and when a child goes missing in Edinburgh’s darkest streets, Ropa investigates his disappearance.

I’m really not supposed to be doing this, but a girl’s gotta get paid. So, here we go.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Pages 55-56:

‘Please find Oliver quickly. You should see what they’ve done to his friend Mark. The two boys were together when they disappeared. Only one came back.’

‘Okay, I’ll poke my nose around. Sniff the wind. Try to figure out what’s going on,’ I say.

About the Author:

T. L. Huchu is a writer whose short-fiction has appeared in publications such as Lightspeed, Interzone, AfroSF and elsewhere. He is the winner of a Nommo Award for African SF/F, and has been shortlisted for the Caine Prize and the Grand Prix de L’Imaginaire. Between projects, he translates fiction from Shona into English and the reverse.

Novellas in November 2021

I’m glad to see that Cathy of 746 Books and Rebecca of BookishBeck are once again co-hosting Novellas in November as a month-long challenge with four weekly prompts. Each week they will take it in turns to host a “buddy read” of a featured book they hope we will join in reading.

They suggest 150–200 pages as the upper limit for a novella, and post-1980 as a definition of “contemporary.”

1–7 November: Contemporary fiction (Cathy)

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson – including a giveaway of a signed copy!

8–14 November: Short nonfiction (Rebecca)

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller (free to download here from Project Gutenberg. Note: only the first 85 pages constitute her memoir; the rest is letters and supplementary material.)

15–21 November: Literature in translation (Cathy)

Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima

22–28 November: Short classics (Rebecca)

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (free to download here from Project Gutenberg)

~~~

I enjoyed taking part last year so I’m looking forward to this year’s event. I read Ethan Frome in 2014 and loved it, so I think I’ll re-read it. Many years ago (I can’t remember when) I read a biography of Helen Keller, or it may even have been her autobiography, so I’ll have a look at that too. I also have several novellas on my TBR shelves to choose from.

20 Books of Summer 2021

At the beginning of the summer I joined Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer Challenge which ended on September 1st, 2021.

I haven’t been reading as many books as usual this summer and I read 19 books in total. And just 13 of them were the books I’d originally chosen. I’ve reviewed 10 of them – linked to my blog posts:

  1. The Railway Children by E Nesbit
  2. A Line to Kill by Anthony Horowitz
  3. An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris
  4. The Dressmaker by Beryl Bainbridge
  5. The Killing Kind by Jane Casey
  6. The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles
  7. Coming Up for Air by Sarah Leipciger
  8. Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch
  9. The Yorkshire Shepherdess by Amanda Owen
  10. The Rose Code by Kate Quinn
  11. Enigma by Robert Harris
  12. Katheryn Howard, The Tainted Queen by Alison Weir
  13. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

So, I still have 7 books of the 20 left to read. I’m currently reading A Corruption of Blood and I hope to read the rest before the end of this year:

  1. Three Men on the Bummel by Jerome K Jerome
  2. Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
  3. The Girl Who Died by Ragnar Jónasson
  4. True Crime Story by Joseph Knox
  5. Just Like the Other Girls by Claire Douglas
  6. Loch Down Abbey by Beth Cowan-Erskine
  7. A Corruption of Blood by Ambrose Parry

Six Degrees of Separation from Second Place to Sons and Lovers

It’s time again for Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month the chain begins with Second Place by Rachel Cusk, one of the books longlisted for the Booker Prize 2021. I’ve read a couple of books by Rachel Cusk, Arlington Park which I loved and The Bradshaw Variations, which I enjoyed but not as good, in my opinion, as Arlington Park. So I was interested to see what Second Place was like and have just finished reading it .

Blurb: ‘A  woman invites a famed artist to visit the remote coastal region where she lives, in the belief that his vision will penetrate the mystery of her life and landscape. Over the course of one hot summer, his provocative presence provides the frame for a study of female fate and male privilege, of the geometries of human relationships, and of the struggle to live morally between our internal and external worlds. With its examination of the possibility that art can both save and destroy us, Second Place is deeply affirming of the human soul, while grappling with its darkest demons.’

My preliminary comments – this book was inspired by a real set of circumstances. In her Acknowledgement at the end of the book Cusk refers to Mabel Dodge Luhan’s 1932 memoir of the time D H Lawrence stayed with her in Taos, New Mexico. She acknowledges that her version of that event is intended as a tribute to her spirit. I’ll write more about Second Place in a later post.

I didn’t find it easy to come up with a chain from Second Place. I started twice, but each time the chain just fizzled out quite quickly. One began with Mabel Luhan’s memoir, Lorenzo in Taos, which is written loosely in the form of letters to and from D. H. Lawrence, Frieda Lawrence, and Robinson Jeffers, the celebrated poet who had been a guest of Mabel’s in Taos, with references to Dorothy Brett and Spud Johnson among others. The second began with A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson, which is also on the longlist for the Booker Prize 2021.

So, I decided to make it very simple!

First linkThe Secret River by Kate Grenville – historical fiction following the life of William Thornhill from his childhood in the slums of London to Australia. He was a Thames waterman transported for stealing timber; his wife and child went with him and they made a new life for themselves. It’s about their struggle for survival as William is eventually pardoned and becomes a waterman on the Hawkesbury River and then a settler with his own land and servants.

Second LinkSee What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt – a novel based on true events. On the 4 August 1892 Andrew Borden and his second wife, Abby, were brutally murdered in their home at 92 Second Street in Fall River, Massachusetts and Andrew’s daughter, Lizzie, was charged with the murders. She was tried and was acquitted in June 1893 and speculation about the murders and whether Lizzie was guilty or not continues to the present day.

Third Link The Serpent Pool by Martin Edwards – a Lake District murder mystery featuring DCI Hannah Scarlet, in charge of the Cumbria’s Cold Case Team, her partner Marc Amos, a rare book dealer and Daniel Kind, a historian and the son of Hannah’s former boss, Ben Kind. It begins with the death of George Saffell, one of Marc’s customers, stabbed and then burnt to death amidst his collection of rare and valuable books.

Fourth LinkThe Shining by Stephen King – this tells the story of Jack Torrance and his family as they move into the Overlook Hotel in the Colorada Rockies. The Overlook is closed for the winter and Jack, a recovering alcoholic is the caretaker. Just what impels him towards murder is horrifyingly revealed as the winter weather closes in on the hotel and they are cut off from the rest of the world.

Fifth Link Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie is Miss Marple’s last case, published posthumously in 1976, although Agatha Christie had written it during the Second World War. Miss Marple investigates a murder that had happened 18 years ago.

Sixth Link Sons and Lovers by D H Lawrence – a powerful, emotional novel depicting the struggle, strife, and passion of relationships and their intensity, and possessiveness. Throughout the book Lawrence’s vivid descriptions and observation of the English countryside are so beautiful that I couldn’t stop marvelling at his writing.

My chain is made up of books all with titles beginning with the letter ‘S’. The final link, Sons and Lovers makes the chain into a circle as it is also linked to Second Place, which inspired Cusk’s fictionalised version of D H Lawrence’s relationship with Mabel Dodge Luhan – called ‘L’ and ‘M’ in her book.

Next month (October 2, 2021), the chain begins with a (frightening) short story, The Lottery by Shirley Jackson.