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Framing the mystery within Weir’s (Daniel O’Thunder, 2011) novel is an extraordinary rendition of life in Regency-era London. 

The eponymous narrator awaits the noose at Newgate Prison. Will is innocent, but he's tainted by his association with the resurrection trade, provenance of those willing to haul a fresh corpse to the porter at Guy’s Hospital for dissection. It’s 1816. Many surgeons returned from the Napoleonic War expert with scalpel and bone saw. What had been a barbarous, bloody business began integrating into medicine as treatment, leading to a demand for cadavers to train prospective surgeons. Grave-robbing resurrection men supplied hospitals and surgeons like Dionysus Atherton, "brightest rising star in the chirurgical firmament." Others, like Will’s employer, Alec Comrie, "a growling Scotsman with a bonesaw," avoid the ghouls. Weir’s worth reading simply for his characters: grave-robber Jemmy Cheese, with "too much imagination for it"; his pawn-shop–owning brother, Edward Cheshire, a "scholard"; and prostitute Meg Nancarrow, "beautiful...in the way a small fierce thing can have beauty." A man’s murdered over a resurrection secret. With Meg hanged for it, Atherton becomes "shipwrecked into obsession" over the idea the "dead may be summoned back." Weir has written a mystery worthy of every word while adding historical tidbits about foundling homes housing "[b]its of flotsam no one cares about"; the Bow Street Runners; slums like St. Giles, that "vast appalling rookery"; and Keats as a medical student. Characters rollick and scheme through a plot as snaky as a London alley in a setting as powerful as a chamber pot tossed from a garret window. No happy tale this, but Starling’s adventures among the Spavined Clerk, the Wreck of Tom Sheldrake, Boggle-Eyed Bob and Alf the Ale-Draper are a delight all the same. 

What Dickens might have written had he set loose Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll to explore the doomsday trade.

Pub Date: Feb. 3rd, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-58642-230-1
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Steerforth
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2014


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