Book Review: The Edinburgh Dead, by Brian Ruckley

Isn’t it refreshing when you read a book you can’t quite classify but absolutely love? That’s how I feel about The Edinburgh Dead. This book is part murder mystery, police procedural, historical fiction, and gothic horror. Think Sherlock Holmes meets Frankenstein…in 1828 Edinburgh, Scotland.

The Edinburgh DeadFrom the publisher:

Edinburgh: 1828

In the starkly-lit operating theaters of the city, grisly experiments are being carried out on corpses in the name of medical science. But elsewhere, there are those experimenting with more sinister forces.

Amongst the crowded, sprawling tenements of the labyrinthine Old Town, a body is found, its neck torn to pieces. Charged with investigating the murder is Adam Quire, Officer of the newly- formed Edinburgh Police. The trail will lead him into the deepest reaches of the city’s criminal underclass, and to the highest echelons of the filthy rich.

Soon Quire will discover that a darkness is crawling through this city of enlightenment – and no one is safe from its corruption.

This is one of those books where the blurb doesn’t really do the story justice. I understand you can only squeeze so much into a blurb, but c’mon, this is as whittled down as it gets. Had I never read Mr. Ruckley’s previous books, I probably wouldn’t have given this one a second look. I’m pleased to say I had enough sense to purchase The Edinburgh Dead.

Mr. Ruckley has yet to disappoint me with his writing style. His prose effortlessly leaps from the page and is easy to follow, even for a guy who has never been to Edinburgh. The setting, 1828 Edinburgh, was a breath of fresh air. Brian’s descriptions puts readers there among the squalor of Old Town with the common folk scratching and clawing out an existence any way they can. Although there were times when I would have liked a little less description, overall the setting becomes a vivid and viable part of the story.

The star of our story is Sergeant Adam Quire, a veteran who fought to quell Napoleon’s rebellion. Quire is a man who excelled at being a soldier and keeps cool under pressure. He’s also a man holding demons in his head like anyone who has seen so much carnage would. Yet, on a police force where men aren’t paid enough to always go above and beyond the call of duty to solve crimes, especially when it comes to the poor denizens of Old Town, Quire has earned the city’s respect for doing just that. His dogged pursuit of justice is what eventually lands him in hot water with his superiors. I rather enjoyed my time with Sergeant Quire. He was a believable, and flawed, character that was easy to root for. Even when you knew his actions would come back to haunt him, readers are right there egging him on. He’s a common guy with morals, like most anyone else.

The gothic horror comes into play as grave robbers dig up and sell the recently dead to various institutions for medical experimentation. Some use the cadavers to learn about the human body, while others have other, nefarious, plans. In an interview in the back of the book, Mr. Ruckley says he was inspired by the story of Burke and Hare, two of the most famous grave robbers of the time. Both men play a part in this story giving it an air of real history, which I like.

If you’re a fan of gothic horror, historical murder mysteries, and tightly woven stories with three dimensional characters, this book is for you. I’m to the point where whatever Brian releases next, I’ll buy. I don’t care what the book is about. He has quickly become one of my favorite authors and I’m looking forward to reading whatever he produces next. Yes, I find his writing to be that good.

What I liked:

  • The setting. Mr. Ruckley brings readers back in time when stagecoaches, oil lamps, and poverty were the norm. He paints a vivid portrait of Edinburgh, circa 1828.
  • The characters. Adam Quire is a fully realized and believable main character. I rather enjoyed all the characters, from the minor to the major. They all seemed like real people in the midst of their lives and I was peeking in on them.
  • The horror aspect. Mr. Ruckley does a marvelous job of not giving, or showing, too much about these abominations walking around. His effective, and often subtle, use of horror techniques is superb and should be read by writers looking for an example of how to give without giving away too much, too soon. His use of sounds when crafting tension is also superb.
  • The pacing. I never once was bored reading this book. Mr. Ruckley keeps the plot moving along at a nice trot and never strays from that pace making it easy to turn the page.
  • The use of history. I loved learning about every day life back in 1828 as I read. I also enjoyed how he incorporated the real life story of Burke and Hare into his fiction.
  • Logic versus mysticism. Mr. Ruckley covers all the medical bases with his use of cadavers as well as the mystical through his use of wards, incantations, and spells. The contrast, like the one between New Town and Old Town, adds a whole other layer to the story, and book. Characters can’t help but wonder if the Devil is involved in these murders, and that’s exactly what they would do. Even the sensible Sergeant starts to wonder if there are “other” forces at work.

What I didn’t like:

  • The ending, while satisfactory, didn’t feel grand enough to me. Mr. Ruckley does such a wonderful job building up to it that when you get there you’re like, “That’s it?”
  • There are times where he gives a little too much description.

Overall: I’m giving The Edinburgh Dead four and a half stars out of five. This was a solid, and easy, read. Mr. Ruckley quickly sucks readers into his world and holds them until the ride is over. I was pleased to find everything I could possibly want in this book and more. It exceeded my expectations and helped etch Brian Ruckley’s name on the list of my favorite authors. I’d highly recommend you shamble your way to the book store and pick up a copy today. Sherlock Holmes meets Frankenstein, who wouldn’t want to read that?

You can read a free sample (through Orbit book’s official website) by clicking on this link.

You can find Brian Ruckley’s official website by following this link.

You can follow Brian Ruckley on twitter by following this link.

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