BOOK REVIEW: The Edinburgh Dead

Posted on August 18, 2011

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This review first posted at www.awritergoesonajourney.com

The Edinburgh Dead
Brian Ruckley
Orbit
2011
The blurb

In the starkly-lit operating theaters of the city, grisly experiments are being carried out on corpses in the name of medical science. But elsewhere, there are those experimenting with more sinister forces.

Amongst the crowded, sprawling tenements of the labyrinthine Old Town, a body is found, its neck torn to pieces. Charged with investigating the murder is Adam Quire, Officer of the newly- formed Edinburgh Police. The trail will lead him into the deepest reaches of the city’s criminal underclass, and to the highest echelons of the filthy rich.

Soon Quire will discover that a darkness is crawling through this city of enlightenment – and no one is safe from its corruption.

And wot I fink is…
When writing an historical novel, even one delving into a bit of Gothic horror as this does, the danger is always that of making sure you have your history spot-on. That has been a significant reason why I tend to steer away from it myself, because the moment you do get it wrong, nitpickers come flooding out of the woodwork to have a gripe. Like me.

From the interesting interview with the author located in the rear of the book, Ruckley describes his basic idea stemming from the thought that what if the infamous body snatchers who turned to murder to supplement their supply of corpses, Burke and Hare, were dealing with more than supplying medical schools? The novel only touches on Burke and Hare but does relate a particular ending to Hare which unfortunately overlooks the fact that there were supposedly confirmed sightings of him in England at a later date. That was my little historical nitpick.

From discussions with a friend of mine who knows Edinburgh very well, the descriptions of the New and Old Towns rang quite true, as did the policing of the time.

It is unfortunate that I have only not long finished reading and reviewing another historical novel also with a backdrop of body snatching, albeit in London. That protagonist and Ruckley’s protagonist have a number of similarities as does aspects of the plot. Please note that I am not suggesting plagiarism or anything of the sort, but merely that once you enter a historical setting like that with a protagonist who is a veteran of the Napoleonic wars, and there were plenty of those, the chances are that more than one writer is going to have similar ideas. But not all readers are going to have also so recently read a similar book.

The pace of the story drew me along pretty well until the closing stages which fell a little flat with me. There were also a few points within the story that puzzled me a little as to what they were intended to be doing. For example, an obviously darkly magical charm is placed in Quire’s room but we never really find out exactly who put it there or what it was intended to mean other than something dark and nasty was probably in Quire’s future.

If you like the mixture of history and Gothic, then this is worth a read although it will not be making it into my final list of favourite books of the year. But then I can be a picky bugger.

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