Orbit, out now
1828: A particularly grisly murder in Edinburgh sets police sergeant Adam Quire on the trail of resurrectionists with a different agenda from usual…
The pull of opposing forces lies at the heart of Brian Ruckley’s excellent novel, whether it’s the differences between the Old and New Towns in Edinburgh itself, Sergeant Quire’s past experiences as a soldier in the fight against Napoleon or his present commitments as an officer of the law, or the more arcane worlds of witchcraft set against the contemporary quest for knowledge. The author sets his stall out with a prologue set 10 years before the main action of the book, recording a demonstration of attempts to reanimate a corpse, so it comes as no surprise to the reader when that’s at the heart of the mystery that Quire tries to solve.
Ruckley weaves genuine historical figures – Knox, Burke and Hare – into the narrative, and his research has allowed him to evoke the feel not simply of the way of life in Edinburgh at that crucial time in its history, but of the people who populated it. From the upper class toffs whose word will be taken as gospel, no matter how falsely they may be speaking, to the whores, nightwatchmen and drunkards on the streets, each rings true.
The horror element is sensibly underplayed in the first half of the book, but as Quire begins to understand the extent of what he is dealing with, it comes to the fore, culminating in three separate incidents where Quire must face something that is beyond his comprehension. The last of these reads as if John Buchan were writing from a story penned by Sam Raimi – a combination that sounds odd, but which works very well.
Verdict: Historical horror at its best. 8/10