I came across the books of Tessa Harris at the library in my search for something new to read, and the description led me to believe the series would be along the same vein as the books by C.S. Harris. This is actually book 2 in the Dr. Thomas Silkstone Mysteries, but I didn’t have much trouble picking up the thread of the series. Dr. Silkstone is an American anatomist who traveled to 1780s London to study under one of the foremost surgeons there. He became embroiled in a mystery in book one, and formed a relationship with Lady Lydia Farrell, a recent widow. She is rather a weak character, who has a propensity for being the woman in distress.
At any rate, the cover blurb sounded promising: It is not just the living who are prey to London’s criminals and cutpurses. Corpses, too, are fair game–dug up from fresh graves and sold to unscrupulous men of science. Dr. Thomas Silkstone abhors such methods, but his leading rival, Dr. John Hunter, has learned of the imminent death of eight-foot-tall Charles Byrne, known as the “Irish Giant,” and will go to any lengths to obtain the body for his research. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only plot in the book. There are sub-plots regarding Italian castratos (young boys castrated to maintain their soprano voices), a slightly mad barber/surgeon, Franz Haydn, cliched Irish drunken thieves, and Lady Lydia’s personal problems that are tacked on to add drama between her and Thomas.
The tale of Charles Byrne is based on fact; he is viewed as an aberration and allows himself to be displayed for money in the hopes of receiving a royal pardon for his deceased father. He is already consumptive, and it’s only a matter of time before he dies himself. Another anatomist, Dr. Hunter, is eager to get his hands on the corpse when the time comes, in order to study the bones. Charles is rather child-like in nature, and is scared of being cut up after death and it’s up to Thomas to do his best to prevent this fate. Sadly, things don’t turn out well at the end in that regard.
There really isn’t much mystery to go along with the main plot line, to be honest. You pretty much know what will happen, it’s just a matter of when. I found the character of Thomas to be a little flat; he’s intelligent and caring, but nothing really stands out about him. While the book is mainly about him, there are parts with the other characters, and head hopping occurs regularly which always throws me off. The romance with Lydia doesn’t add anything to the tale, and I didn’t care about her problems or their relationship. I have to add a note of warning about the graphic depictions of the dissections along with horrors of prison and gory surgeries – if you are squeamish, this may not be for you.
Overall, the book had potential to be better than it was, and doesn’t hold up well in comparison to the books of C.S. Harris. There are a few more books in the series, I’m just not sure if I’m that interested in them.