Harris, Tessa - 'The Anatomist's Apprentice'
It is 1780 and Dr Thomas Silkstone is a young American surgeon and physician who comes from Philadelphia, when New England was still a colony of Great Britain. He is studying at St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London, to perfect his skills as an anatomist, which is what modern pathologists were then known as and such is the rarity of his speciality at that time that he is perhaps the only one with his expertise available.
The unexplained death of young Lord Crick has lead to a terrible amount of gossip and innuendo around the towns and county of Oxfordshire where the family of the deceased live. The deceased was not much loved by those around him with the exception of his sister, the beautiful Lady Lydia Farrell. When her husband comes under suspicion of murder, she seeks out the expertise of Dr Thomas Silkstone. Silkstone undertakes an autopsy on the body, which so long after death is very difficult as insects had done their work and as of course there were no refrigeration facilities in 1780. But it is not only the dead, but also the living, that he has to argue with and present his case for the reason behind the deceased's death. Silkstone has great difficulty and the problems he has and how he succeeds in overcoming them, makes for a very fast moving and entertaining story that after a slow start, I could not put down.
The author says that her story was inspired by a murder trial that occurred at Warwick Assizes in England, in 1781. It was the first ever known occasion where an expert witness - in this case, an anatomist - was called. The author has thoughtfully provided a glossary at the back of the book to explain some of the words, science and historical details quoted in the text.
I enjoyed this book immensely and only regretted not reading it sooner. It was very atmospheric and meticulously plotted and the characters are all richly drawn. The author gives a very vivid picture of life at this time. A highly imaginative story and wonderfully evocative of the late eighteenth century. Well recommended.
Terry Halligan, England
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