The Resurrectionist, by James Bradley

When orphaned Gabriel Poll is apprenticed to great London anatomist Edwin Poll, it is intended that he will study and advance himself. The son of a gentleman who fell on hard times, Gabriel is fortunate to have found a guardian who offered him shelter when he was orphaned and is now sponsoring his apprenticeship. He should take this opportunity and use it wisely. But Gabriel finds himself in a house touched by a nasty undercurrent. To study and teach anatomy, Poll needs a regular supply of dead bodies and, with these in short supply from legitimate sources, Poll deals with resurrectionists – grave robbers who come in the dead of night.

Gabriel finds himself involved in a trade which operates amidst dark shadows and, when he loses his apprenticeship, is taken in by the resurrectionists, sinking ever further into the dark depths of their trade.

In the second part of the novel a man with a different name teaches art in the colony of New South Wales and takes commissions for the trapping and painting of bird specimens. But when he takes an interest in one of his young students, he realises that it is not possible to escape a dark past forever.

The Resurrectionist is a bleak, dark novel, yet it is compelling, with the reader drawn into Gabriel’s dark descent and willing him to find a way out of its horrific depths. Gabriel appears at first an innocent victim of circumstance but the paths he chooses show he is not simply an unwilling spectator.

Whilst playing out to an uncomfortable conclusion, the novel has depths and implications which are absorbing well beyond the final page.

The Resurrectionist, by James Bradley
Picador, 2006