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Fleshmarket

by Nicola Morgan

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
924260,254 (3.2)3
In nineteenth-century Scotland, following the death of his mother during surgery, Robbie decides to take revenge on the surgeon who performed the operation, Dr. Robert Knox, and in the process, makes a gruesome discovery about the lengths the medical profession will go to advance its knowledge of anatomy.… (more)
  1. 00
    Sawbones by Catherine Johnson (konallis)
    konallis: Another surgery and body-snatching-themed YA novel, set a generation earlier and with a strong mystery angle.
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Fieldnotes:
Edinburgh, 1828

1 Gruesome, Unfortunate Surgery
1 Tragedy Ending in Bankruptcy
1 Alcoholic Absentee Father
1 Winsome Little Sister
Sordid, Squalid Poverty

1 Burning Hatred for
1 Self-Important Surgeon
1 Secret Illegal Anatomy School
Inadequate Amounts of Not Quite Resurrection Men Burke & Hare
1 Self-Destructive Spiral

The Short Version:
I picked this up because of its Edinburgh setting and because it was (ostensibly) about Burke & Hare - a rather gruesome set of criminals from the 1820s. But while this was admirably vivid as a look at the squalor and misery of poverty at the time in Edinburgh, the actual plot just...didn't really work for me.

Robbie's mother died after (unanesthetized) surgery done by Dr. Knox when Robbie was only 8. Robbie blames Knox and when Robbie encounters him by chance 6 years later, he becomes consumed by his hatred and drive for revenge to the point of losing his job and neglecting his sister, sending them deeper into squalor - but he discovers that Knox is buying cadavers for an illicit anatomy school from Burke & Hare.

Fine...but somehow Robbie gets entangled working for Burke & Hare (why???) as a lookout and his path just keeps on crossing Dr. Knox who increasingly is shown to be just a person - self-important, but a skilled surgeon who plays the violin as Robbie loves to. Without really caring a jot for Robbie he ends up saving him from prison once and his life another time.

This kind of nuance should be interesting, but ultimately it just seems like the story has no heart. It seems like the sort of thing that would be assigned at school because there are a lot of tie-in subjects that could be discussed (history of medicine, ethics, body-snatching, maybe even some sociology), but in terms of plot - none of it really seems to drive the story forward and I found myself putting the book down more often than not with little drive to pick it back up. ( )
  Caramellunacy | May 16, 2022 |
An odd little book, this: it's actually aimed at early teenagers, and I picked it up by accident. Set in the body-snatching period of Edinburgh, it features Burke and Hare (inevitably) and their sidekick surgeon, Knox. It's dark and gloomy and for the most part depressing, and I found the hero's eventual salvation a bit unconvincing. But it's well-researched, and for anyone with a school topic on, say, 18th. century medicine / surgery, it's a good narrative introduction. ( )
  lexieconyngham | Sep 17, 2013 |
Great, shocking beginning suck in to the child's mind and world, so that you are immediately on his side. Good evocation of 19th century Edinburgh - grimy, poor and full of crime. Would be excellent background for anyone taking History of Medicine for GCSE, as it deals with body-snatching, surgery and advances in medicine. Well-written and engaging. ( )
  Goldengrove | Feb 6, 2011 |
An interesting teen read about Edinburgh in the time of Burke & Hare and a kid with ambitions to become a surgeon. ( )
  wyvernfriend | Sep 25, 2005 |
Showing 4 of 4
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Epigraph
The Doctor

O dinna fear the doctor,/
He comes to mak' ye weel,/
To nurse ye like a tender flower,/
And your wee head to heal;/
He brings the bloom back to your cheek,/
The blithe blink to your e'e - /
An't werena for the doctor,/
My bonnie bairn might dee.//

O wha would fear the doctor!/
His pouthers, pills an' a';/
Ye just a wee bit swither gi'e,/
An' then the taste's awa'!/
He'll mak' ye sleep as sound's a tap,/
And rise as light's a flee-/
An't werena for the doctor,/
My bonnie bairn might dee,//

A kind man is the doctor,/
As mony poor folk ken; /
He spares nae toil by day or night/
To ease them o' their pain;/
And O he lo'es the bairnies weel,/
An' tak's them on his knee - /
An't werena for the doctor, /
My bonnie bairn might dee.//

- Alexander Smart
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The woman walked slowly into the room, her stiff skirts rustling in the sudden silence.
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In nineteenth-century Scotland, following the death of his mother during surgery, Robbie decides to take revenge on the surgeon who performed the operation, Dr. Robert Knox, and in the process, makes a gruesome discovery about the lengths the medical profession will go to advance its knowledge of anatomy.

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