Some Rise By Sin by Siôn Scott-Wilson
Book Review


1829 is a tough year to be a body snatcher. Burke and Hare have just been convicted of killing people to sell their bodies, to widespread outrage—but despite the bad press, doctors still need fresh corpses for medical research.

Sammy and Facey are a couple of so-called ‘resurrection men’, making a living among society's fringe-dwellers by hoisting the newly departed from the churchyards of London whilst masquerading as late-night bakers. Operating on tip-offs and rumours in the capital’s drinking dens and fighting pits, the pair find themselves in receipt of some valuable intelligence: an unusual cadaver has popped up on the market, that of a hermaphrodite.

For any medic worth his salt it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—a medical curiosity and rara avis—and famous anatomist Joshua Brookes commissions the two men to obtain the body, at any cost. But some corpses hold secrets, and before long the enterprise becomes a deadlier and more complex undertaking than either man could ever have imagined.

My Thoughts

Sammy and Facey, resurrection men, dream of giving up their current line of work to own a tavern. To this end, they augment their income from body-snatching by running various scams and debt collecting. Their dream comes closer to fruition when they are offered a lucrative commission to find the body of a hermaphrodite. They are not the only ones after this anatomical prize, and it's a race to see who can find the corpse first.

Sammy and Facey, in their quest, will cross paths with rivals, loan sharks, anatomists, rakehells and other unsavoury characters. They will visit brothels, gambling and opium dens, and the grand homes of the well-to-do; suffer injury and tragic loss; learn of a horrendous act, and welcome the rough justice served on a vile young man for his crimes.

Sammy is the narrator of this lively tale, revealing much about himself in the telling. His expressive voice, peppered with 19th century slang, immediately draws you into his world and the grim reality of life in the slums of Georgian London.

Facey, the other half of this enterprising duo, is short-tempered and quick to use his fists. He is the leader and Sammy is happy to follow.

When circumstances force Sammy to take charge, he is encouraged and aided by a loyal and trusted group of friends: Rosamund, a smallpox-scarred pavement artist and Sammy's romantic interest; Kak John, an excrement collector; and Pure John, his younger, sweeter-smelling brother; and many others.

This is a very character-laden story. Some are only met in passing, while others play a more significant role. All, however, are memorable thanks to Sammy's astute and colourful observations. One image, in particular, I can't get out of my mind is of a rival gang member. This gentleman sports a set of large Waterloo dentures, supposedly made of teeth he personally collected from the battlefield. Although known as Teeth, Sammy prefers to call him Carthorse due to his eye-catching and disconcerting smile.

Aside from the comical elements and the matter-of-fact style of Sammy's narration, a sinister undertone begins to develop as Sammy and Facey's search for an elusive debtor and the whereabouts of the hermaphrodite become entwined.

What I expected to be a dark and disturbing tale turned out to be strangely captivating and filled with lovable rogues. Despite their questionable occupations and actions, Sammy, Facey and their friends are so endearing that you want them to succeed. They are pragmatic, philosophical and stay true to their own moral code and sense of honour.

Poignant and revolting at times, humorous and utterly compelling Some Rise by Sin is a must for historical fiction lovers. I thought it was brilliant and one of the best books I have read this year.

My thanks to Hannah Hargrave and Deixis Press for a review copy.

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