I don’t know about you, but when I hear about the history of grave robbers digging up fresh corpses in the night to conduct medical experiments, my imagination goes to England, with the stories of men like Burke and Hare. But why? Young America also had doctors who needed to learn anatomy. How did our early surgeons learn their craft?
Matthew Guinn takes this subject matter and gives it an even better twist in his debut novel The Resurrectionist. His story combines the historical novel with a contemporary thriller. Guinn uses two narrative threads.
In the present, young Dr. Jacob Thacker is on suspension for Xanax abuse and banned from practice; he has become the publicity officer for a South Carolina medical school. His dean’s pet project, a renovation, uncovers a dark secret from the school’s past: a store of bones used by long-ago anatomy students, bones that came entirely from slaves or recently-freed African Americans. Thacker wants to uncover the story behind the bones, while his boss pressures him to cover up the story and prevent protests so the renovation can continue.
The second story line takes us back to the past, and slowly reveals the history of those bones under the building. Here the lead character is Nemo Johnston, a resurrectionist hired by the school to procure human bodies in a time when animal corpses were often used unsuccessfully to learn anatomy and medical schools were chaotic, unregulated affairs. Nemo eventually rises to become the anatomy instructor at the school. The kicker? Nemo is himself an African-American, a recently freed slave who through sheer ability becomes the anatomy instructor for students who still don’t view him as their societal equal.
What happens to a grave robber hated by one community for stealing his people’s bodies and resented by another for rising beyond his expected station? Will Jacob protect his career or go public with the story that he slowly uncovers? Read The Resurrectionist to find the answers to these and other questions in a novel that handles questions of race with sensitivity and unpacks the vaults of history while spinning a fascinating yarn.
Check the WRL catalog for The Resurrectionist