Under the Radar: Resurrection Men by T. K. Welsh
When the Marquess of Stanton’s coach runs over a boy, his coachman and mistress insist on taking the boy to a doctor. In his determination to save the boy, Dr. Lambro minces no words and throws the marquess out of his house. Dr. Lambro’s neighbor, Colonel Maxwell, warns Lambro that he may have made an enemy out of the marquess, but the good doctor is not afraid. As he begins to operate on the boy, he tells the colonel a story about a young boy just like the one lying on his table.
Twenty-two years earlier, in 1830, a boy named Victor watched soldiers kill his parents in Modena. Though some of the soldiers wanted to kill Victor, too, their senior officer had a better idea. Selling him would be much more profitable, and so Victor ends up a cabin boy on a ship sailing west. But when his leg is shattered, Victor is of no use on the ship and is thrown overboard. He manages to survive, washing up on the shores of England, where an elderly man rescues him, taking Victor in and saving his leg. Although Victor is forced to use a crutch to get around, it’s a pleasant life, until the old man can no longer afford to keep Victor around and sells him to a Mr. Tipple and Mr. Biggs.
Mr. Tipple and Mr. Biggs take Victor to London. His journey is an unpleasant one, as he has been thrown into a coffin and must share the space with a corpse. Once in London, Mr. Tipple and Mr. Biggs leave Victor at the home of Master Hartley, who forces children to beg for money in exchange for living in his attic. Master Hartley also has a menagerie of animals he rents out to these children. With so many beggars in London, an animal can make the difference between earning enough money to live in Master Hartley’s attic and living in the streets. Gradually, Victor learns which animals will earn him the most money, and he also begins to earn his keep by doing errands for Hartley, including driving Mr. Tipple and Mr. Biggs around London as they steal corpses and dig up graves, for they are Resurrection Men, selling bodies to doctors eager to learn more about human anatomy.
T. K. Welsh brings Victor’s surroundings, which range from his idyllic days on the English coast to a dirty, squalid, awe-inspiring London, to life in vivid detail. He doesn’t flinch from messy, gory descriptions, but neither does he dwell in them. Likewise, Victor is a worthy and sympathetic hero, making the most of his circumstances and determined to save his friends when it becomes apparent that someone is kidnapping and killing London’s poor children to supply doctors with corpses.
Resurrection Men was inspired by a real 1831 trial. A note about this in the book, along with a bibliography or short reading list, would have been nice. But this is a minor quibble. A bigger problem, in my opinion, is the flap copy, which does the book a disservice by immediately telling us that the protagonist is twelve years old. Yes, Victor is twelve, but to first describe him with his age will no doubt dissuade some older teens from giving Resurrection Men a try, which is a pity. It is more appropriate for them than it is for twelve-year-olds, and it is a book adults will appreciate, as well. As our narrator says, “And while the average life expectancy in London was around thirty-five, when you factored in infantile deaths, twenty-seven was the average age people died, twenty-two among those in the working class. Twenty-two! By that measure, Victor was already middle-aged.”
Also reviewed at Big A, little a. And the VOYA review? Spoilerific.
Here’s the rest of today’s Radar Books schedule:
Big A, little a: The Deep by Helen Dunmore
Bildungsroman: The May Bird Trilogy by Jodi Lynn Anderson
A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy: The Vietnam books by Ellen Emerson White
Chasing Ray: Kipling’s Choice by Geert Spillebeen
Finding Wonderland: The Avion My Uncle Flew by Cyrus Fisher
A Fuse #8 Production: Stoneflight by George McHarque
Interactive Reader: A Plague of Sorcerers by Mary Frances Zambreno
lectitans: Gentle’s Holler and Louisiana Song both by Kerry Madden
Not Your Mother’s Bookclub: A look at some recently reissued books (Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack and Jane-Emily, and Charlotte Sometimes)
Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast: Such a Pretty Face: Short Stories About Beauty edited by Ann Angel