Historical thriller writers to give reading at iconic house where chloroform was discovered

The authors of a series of historical thrillers are returning to the scene of one of the world's greatest medical discoveries to read extracts from their new novel.

Chris Brookmyre and his wife Dr Marisa Haetzman, who write as a couple under the pseudonym Ambrose Parry, are showcasing "A Corruption of Blood" at Simpson House in Edinburgh.

The third volume in the Raven and Fisher series, the book interweaves the life of Sir James Young Simpson and is centred around the Queen Street property where he made his famous discovery of the impact of inhaling chloroform which is the first widely used anaesthetic.

Ambrose Parry
The couple are excited about the prospect of reading extracts from their novel in the house where chloroform was discovered.

It is said that Sir James served willing dinner party guests the fluid warmed in hot water to create vapour which had them "under the mahogany in a trice".

The event, which coincides with the Edinburgh International Book Festival, is being held on Saturday at 5pm, authors including Val McDermid, Denise Mina and Sara Sheridan will be among the guests and people can watch live online.

Today, the historic house is used by CrossReach, the operating name of the Social Care Council of the Church of Scotland, to run "empowering, transforming and innovating" counselling support services for people affected by drug use.

Dr Haeztman, a consultant anaesthetist whose research for her master's degree on the history of medicine uncovered the material for the Victorian-era novels, said: "We have visited 52 Queen Street so many times in our imaginations.

"It is a thrill to be able to visit in person and to support the vital work of CrossReach at Simpson House."


Sir James, an celebrated obstetrician who was the Queen's physician in Scotland, discovered the anaesthetic properties of chloroform in 1847.

His ideas and stance on pain-free child birth were met with opposition from some quarters but were silenced in 1853 when Queen Victoria gave birth to her eighth child, Prince Leopold, after the successful administration of chloroform.

Sir James lived in the property from 1845 until his death in 1870 and the Simpson family gifted the property to the Church of Scotland in 1916.

Over the years it has had many uses including being requisitioned by the army during the Second World War, a centre for training Sunday School teachers in the 1950s and was converted into a centre for counselling and recovery services in 1985.

Therapeutic support

Craig Miller, managing co-ordinator of CrossReach Children and Families Services, said: "The echoes of Dr Simpson reverberate throughout the walls in this remarkable building from which we have the pleasure of offering our CrossReach Counselling Services.

"Clients often describe Simpson House as welcoming, solid, open and grounded.

"A space from which it feels possible to safely contemplate sharing their own, often very personal and intimate stories which are often not shared with another soul out loud.

"As a base for Counselling and Therapeutic Support, Simpson House acts as the container to hold and respect a wide array of touching, inspiring and remarkable individual stories through play therapy, art therapy, counselling and psychotherapy."

CrossReach, the jewel in the crown of the Church, is one of the largest and most diverse voluntary sector social care organisations in Scotland and offers a wide range of cradle to the grave services.

Last month, new figures revealed that 1,339 people died of drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2020.

The rate is a 5% increase on the previous year and the highest on record.