From Publishers Weekly
British historian Wise's well-written first book explores the grisly underbelly of pre-Victorian London by examining the trial of three "body snatchers," John Bishop, James May and Thomas Williams, who were arrested in 1831 while attempting to sell the suspiciously fresh cadaver of a teenage boy to a medical college. Drawing on astonishingly detailed research, Wise places the crime in context by describing how a shadowy "resurrection" trade in exhumed bodies had grown up to meet the rising demand of the new science of anatomy. She explains how various Londoners, including several Italians, testified that a hat found at Bishop's home matched that of a recently vanished Italian boy peddler. Soon the new London police force was sleuthing its way to the bottom of a case that caused widespread alarm and a media circus in a city notorious for its numbers of missing persons. Wise energetically explicates every twist of the evidence with fascinating detours into the wider social context of newly vulnerable urban family life, punitive poor laws and fragmented philanthropy. Biographies of the trio of body snatchers demystify the Victorian criminal. Wise's deft prose contributes vastly to our understanding of pre-Victorian London's everyday street life, districts, trades, policing, prisons and press. Meanwhile, she skillfully manages the narrative, keeping her story gripping without sensationalizing it. Generously illustrated, this is a macabre yet historically serious work, invaluable to anyone interested in the truth of London's gory past.
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From School Library Journal
Adult/High School–Making good use of scant information, Wise chronicles one of the most celebrated crimes of the 19th century, perpetrated by the dreaded "Resurrection Men." These were grave robbers engaged in the lucrative practice of providing London's medical schools with cadavers for dissection. As demand exceeded supply, some turned to homicide, especially since the freshest bodies brought the highest reward. By the end of the book, readers have gained knowledge of the controversial creation of Robert Peal's "bobbies," the primitive origins of crime-scene investigation, and the conduct of British jury trials of the period. The author describes the exponential growth of the city in the first third of the 19th century, the precarious economic situation of the lower population strata, and the poverty and filth that so appalled later Victorians and led them to take corrective action. She explains why Italian boys–and many other children–called the streets of London home and why the poor were perpetual crime victims. This engrossing and suspenseful blending of sociology, history, and true crime will appeal to both researchers and casual readers.–Dori DeSpain, Fairfax County Public Library, VA