Why would an escapee from Bedlam need an endless supply of fresh cadavers?
Reverend Tombs makes it his habit to visit Col. Titus Hyde during his incarceration for melancholia in Britain’s notorious madhouse, Bedlam. The two men reminisce about army service over a chessboard until one midnight finds one of the two lying in the cell while the other strides off to freedom. The chief magistrate calls in Matthew Hawkwood, a Regency supersleuth employed as a Bow Street Runner, and asks him to investigate very quietly so as not to alarm the citizenry. The matter seems to resolve itself when the perp shouts his confession just before setting fire to a church and leaping into the flames. But that hardly accounts for all the bodies that are now turning up with their faces peeled away, peculiar amputations and patches of skin removed. Could this homicidal anatomist somehow be the man who murdered and mutilated the Bedlam victim, stole his identity and is now keeping body snatchers like the evil Sawney busy? Hyde, an experienced army surgeon, could be responsible, but tracking him won’t be easy for Hawkwood, who will have to fend off cutthroat attacks, rapier thrusts, scruffy whores, fetid grog, and the offal in London’s streets and sewers before finding a secret operating theater where two surgeons—one in pursuit of scientific knowledge and the other for more personal reasons—are transplanting organs into deceased bodies and trying to revive them with electrical shocks.
Part fiction, part fact and all unsuitable for the faint of heart. McGee (Hawkwood, 2012) provides so many scurrilous grave robbers and medical atrocities that gentle readers may want to keep a perfumed hankie handy.