The setting is Regency London. Robbing fresh graves to supply the city’s anatomy schools and hospitals is a profitable business; illegal, reprehensible, but necessary if medical knowledge is to advance. Gangs competing for control of the trade are not above murder and mutilation to warn off rivals. Bow Street Runner Matthew Hawkwood is ordered to probe into just such a vicious killing. On the same day, he is sent to Bedlam Hospital in order to investigate an equally monstrous murder. His inquiries lead him to respected citizens as well as brutal resurrectionists and their women in the vilest stews of the city.
McGee’s medical research is thorough and fascinating. Nor does he neglect the moral ambiguities of the resurrectionist’s crime. In the first chapters, the plot’s threads seem irreconcilable but with quickly paced action and many a twist and turn, he draws them skilfully together. The characters are three-dimensional as is London’s underbelly in all its squalor and stinks. Hawkwood is an enigmatic hero; hard and ruthless, yet he wins the reader’s respect.
This is not a novel for the squeamish but it is thoughtful, colourful and very readable.