Sunday, 16 October 2011

Fleshmarket by Nicola Morgan

A Chilling Tale of Old Edinburgh
review by Maryom

Two reasons to include this review here in the EdBookFest follow-ups - a Nicola Morgan novel, set in 19th century Edinburgh. Unfortunately we couldn't attend Nicola's event on writing historical fiction due to other commitments - but I wish we had.

Edinburgh Old Town in the 1820s is an overcrowded place of dingy stinking alleyways and wynds overlooked by skyscraper-tall tenements which block out the light. Disease spreads easily and rapidly through the place and surgeons at the nearby Infirmary try to pioneer new ways to help - often with disastrous consequences for their live guinea pigs. Dr Robert Knox believes advances in caring for people can only be made through a greater understanding of human anatomy - but how can he achieve this with the legal quantity of one corpse a year. Into this gap of supply and demand step Burke and Hare, suppliers of dead bodies, no questions asked...
Robbie and his little sister Essie live in the heart of the poorest part of Old Town, at the top of a crumbling tenement overlooking the open-air abattoir of the Fleshmarket. Since their mother died following an operation things have gone downhill for the family and, as their father's absences increase, Robbie and Essie are left to provide for themselves. Robbie has long held Dr Knox responsible for his mother's death and all the troubles that stemmed from it. When he thinks he's found a way to avenge her death he's only too keen to go along with it...

Fleshmarket is a wonderful mingling of fact and fiction played out against the atmospheric backdrop of Edinburgh Old Town. I was gripped from the very first page by a deeply disturbing opening that probably wasn't best read over lunch! Robbie's hatred of Knox leaves the reader anxious for him as he's drawn further into the nefarious activities of those around him, to the point where to cease his involvement may prove just as dangerous as continuing. In many ways, though, the 'star' of the story is Edinburgh Old Town - it's stinking backstreets brought to life by the author, making it a 'must read' for anyone who's visited the area. The novel also raises questions about medical research and the legal restraints on it, as valid now as then.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - HodderChildrens
Genre - Thriller, Historical, teen

Buy Fleshmarket from Amazon

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