The Secret of Vesalius

Written by Jordi Llobregat Thomas Bunstead (trans.)
Review by Douglas Kemp

Barcelona in 1888, in the run up to the World Fair which is to be held in that same city. Daniel Amat, just appointed to a teaching position at Magdalen College, Oxford, is summoned home to Barcelona to the funeral of his estranged father, a doctor. At the funeral he meets a local journalist, Bernat Fleixa, who tells him that Dr Amat was investigating a series of murders, and believes that Daniel’s father was killed to prevent his uncovering the murderer. Daniel is initially sceptical, and just wants to return to his agreeable life in Oxford, but he soon has little alternative but to accept that the truth is murkier than he first believed. A young medical student, Pau Gilbert, also gets involved in the investigations, and the trio uncover a dangerous set of secrets that in various ways imperils them all. Both Daniel and Pau also have mysteries in their respective backgrounds, which emerge and ramify the tale as the narrative unfolds. There is madness, selfishness cruelty and corruption, concluding in a bizarre grand guignol of Lovecraftian horror.

There is a weird, Gothic feel to the novel, a sensation that the characters are in ethereal and disturbing times. It is an enjoyable, racy read, though it took a fair time for me to become fully engaged in the lengthy story, and there are a few unfeasible plot developments that demand the reader has to entirely suspend disbelief for the duration of this trip into the nether regions of human behaviour.