Resurrectionist by James McGee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
James McGee takes us to the dark and murky streets of Napoleonic War-Era 19th Century London, England, and the reader is right there with all the sights, sounds, smells and feels of the period. I did not get a chance to read the first book, but I was thrilled to find this at the library, since a friend of mine had raved about this series years ago. I am glad I read this book, even if some of the scenery wasn't necessarily enjoyable. This book screams authentic atmosphere, and I like that it shows the darker side of this period that I don't get to see in the Regency romance novels I read that can be very pristine (and often too light in tone) and spend more time in the gilded ballrooms and elegant sitting rooms. You don't get to see the way the real people lived in those. No, this book takes place in the backstreets, and most of the characters are working class, either ex-soldiers, bully-boys, prostitutes and Bow Street Runners, like our hero, Matthew Hawkwood.
Hawkwood is an enigmatic figure. You don't get that far into his head. You see more of how he reacts to situations or his thoughts at being faced with a series of murders that are incredibly disturbing. As the story builds, I obtained a sense of what kind of person he is, and I have to say that his personality appeals to me. He's very plain-speaking and doesn't curry favor. He has a sense of honor and he's like a dog with a bone. He doesn't give up until he solves the case. His sense of justice is hardcore. Money and power don't factor into right or wrong. Of course, that can cause friction when his prey is an insane doctor who thinks he's Dr. Victor Frankenstein and who has prominent connections. Hawkwood isn't the only intriguing character in this novel. I like that McGee is not afraid to give the POV of the 'dregs' of society, including streetwalkers. When I read these kinds of books, it makes me grateful that I don't have to resort to the acts that these characters have to commit to keep food in their mouths. I asked myself where does the line that you don't cross lie. Why is the idea of grave-robbing and selling dead bodies so repugnant? They are dead. It doesn't hurt them. But the idea made my skin crawl. And the resurrectionists in this novel have more heinous crimes on their soul. I also liked that one of the bad guys is a sociopathic female prostitute. Not that it's a good thing, mind you. I liked that it speaks of an unsentimentality on the author's part, what I consider a backward sexism that can be hard to avoid in literature. Yes, women can be so morally bankrupt to kill or to collude with such acts. Men aren't the only ones capable of great evil. And this particular outwardly beautiful young woman is like a sewer inside.
This novel is like a maze that makes you travel a twisted path to its conclusion. When I started it, I had no idea where it would go. And with further reading, I was more surprised at the direction. While some aspects were unpalatable to the extreme, I did like how McGee examines the impact of the war on its survivors. Many of the characters were veterans and were personally affected by the war. Hawkwood is just one of them. They know personally that war isn't just a game. It's deadly serious and its effects are long-lasting. It brings out the worst in people, but it can also create lifelong bonds between people.
I enjoyed this novel in that it was good suspense and a very descriptive view of historical London and the darker side of life in that city. I liked Hawkwood's character. He is a tough and driven man with a sense of justice that continually puts him in harm's way. I hope to read the first book and to continue this series. Recommended to readers who enjoy historical adventure/suspense.
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