Review Blog

Sep 16 2010

The life of a teenage body snatcher by Doug MacLeod

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Penguin, 2010. ISBN 9780143203919.
(Age 13+) Highly recommended. I have enjoyed other books by Doug MacLeod, especially delighting in his fabulous sense of humour and I was not disappointed in this engrossing tale of Thomas Timewell. Set in England in 1828, our young hero is determined to carry out his grandfather's wish to have his body donated to science. However Thomas' mother thwarts him, and insists that his grandfather be buried. Thomas decides to dig up the body so that it can be sent to London to advance medicine. While at the grave, in the dead of night, he meets a body snatcher named Plentitude, and from then on his life takes a dramatic turn.
MacLeod's descriptions of his characters and their behaviours bring the historical period to life. There are some truly memorable people in this book. Thomas Timewell is a young gentleman. He looks after his mother, who is addicted to laudanum. His observations about the trials of his family made me laugh aloud. Plenitude, a tattooed gypsy with a meat cleaver, and young Miss Victoria and his friend Charlie are all fleshed out really well and each person's role comes together in a most satisfying conclusion.
The book is saturated with details about life in the 1800's. Not only does the reader learn about grave robbing and the use of laudanum, but also discovers facts about schools and literature. A sub- theme throughout the book examining the power of the written word is fascinating. Thomas is forced to listen to the worst prose he has ever heard at a book reading organised by his mother and the reader is introduced to the fact that women in Victorian times were forced to write under a man's name if they wanted to get their books published. His teacher Mr Atkins, a sadistic bully, writes a book about how he keeps his pupils in line, and Thomas fights to stop it going into print. This description of a teacher torturing his pupils in a systematic way is horrifying and I won't forget it in a hurry.  
This is a great historical novel that gives an insight into the life of a resurrectionist, but the darkness of the occupation never takes over because of the adventure, the people you meet and the witty descriptions.
Pat Pledger

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