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BOOK REVIEW: THE ANATOMISTS
BY HAL MCDONALD

We hope you enjoy this book review by Douglas R. Cobb.

Harken back to an older, gentler time, when body snatchers roamed the graveyards of England, plundering newly-buried coffins for their "treasures" of bodies for the anatomists at medical colleges, and when people would go to any lengths to cover up murders in a greedy attempt to inherit vast fortunes. Gentler? Okay, so I used a word for dramatic effect--so sue me! But, getting back to the review at hand, if you are a fan of historic mysteries, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Poe’s detective hero and master of ratiocination Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin, you will definitely get a lot of enjoyment from reading Hal McDonald’s novel, The Anatomists.

The "anatomists" and amateur sleuths of the book are anatomists themselves. They are Jean-Claude Legard and Edward Montague. Jean-Claude takes on a Sherlock Holmes or Dupin type of role to that of Edward Montague’s narrator and sidekick character role, which he fulfills in a way that would bring a smile to Doctor Watson’s face--if Watson wasn’t fictional, that is. The only methods to obtain the necessary cadavers for medical students at the time in England was to either pay someone to dig one up, or to do the dirty work for yourself. The body that the teenage body snatcher, Jimmy, obtains for them at the cost of four guineas, though, isn’t the body which was supposed to have been in the grave, and the intrepid Jean-Claude suspects foul play.

The book is very entertaining and suspenseful, though the plot and the reasoning of Jean-Claude sometimes gets somewhat convoluted, as with Doyle’s tales of Sherlock Holmes, and Poe’s, of Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin. While you will appreciate the "logical" reasoning out by Jean-Claude to try to ferret out the culprits, you might sometimes feel like strangling him or doing some other kind of bodily harm to him because he seems to be so smug and arrogant, as Holmes does, upon occasion. Whether because of his Holmes-like attributes or despite them, the chess-playing Legard is a interesting and engaging character in his own right:

"There is a murderer roaming the streets of London. And we are going to catch him - checkmate - before he can kill again."

The stalwart duo discover that the man’s body that Jimmy procures for them has a mark on the back of his neck, indicating that he died from having been stabbed in the brain. Also, when they visit the All Soul’s graveyard to investigate further, and read about their exploits in the next day’s newspaper, they learn that the identity of the body believed to have been stolen that night from the empty coffin is Mrs. Alfred Darcy.

This strange turn of events leads Jean-Claude and Edward Montague eventually to the grand oriental-inspired estate of the deceased Sir Alfred Darcy, now in the possession of someone claiming to be Philip Worthington, the brother of Abigail, the more recently deceased Mrs. Alfred Darcy. Who killed the man who had been in the coffin, and why? Why would someone have switched the body of Mrs. Darcy for the man’s corpse?

For that matter, where are the current whereabouts of Abigail’s body? Jean-Claude develops carefully reasoned, logical explanations for his theories, but the problem is that just because an explanation seems to fit, that doesn’t always mean it’s the only or correct one. Still, it's fun to read his theories, and try to out-deduce him. Check out The Anatomists, a book you won’t want to put down if you’re a fan of Holmes and Dupin and enjoy period mysteries.

REVIEWED BY DOUGLAS R. COBB

DO NOT REPRINT WITHOUT PERMISSION OF THE REVIEWER, DOUGLAS R. COBB

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