Fleshmarket by Nicola Morgan is published by Hodder Children's Books. A story of pain and loss, and the compulsion for revenge, it is set in Victorian Edinburgh and is based on the activities of the serial murderers Burke and Hare - the two Irish immigrants who, for just under a year, between the November of 1827 and the October of 1828, sold the corpses of their sixteen victims to Dr Robert Knox, a lecturer in Anatomy at Edinburgh Medical College.
Dr Robert Knox
Nicola Morgan's story begins by alluding to a true event, learned about when she took a tour around Surgeons’ Hall in Edinburgh. We read how a young woman with a cancerous growth had the tumour surgically removed by the anatomist, Dr. Robert Knox, the operation being performed before the days of anaesthetic relief. The scene is harrowing and gruesomely described, with the ‘victim’s young son, Robbie, cowering in an adjoining room, forced to endure the horrible sounds of his mother’s screaming agony.
Outside the room, her son, only eight years old, clenched his ears between his hands. He crouched in a ball and rocked and rocked and rocked, to lull the sound of his mother’s scream. She saw him from above and reached out for him, held him in her heart, flew with him, floating free together, and then, suddenly, simply, she let him fall. She dropped him. Something closed inside her and she let him go. As he fell alone, a part of her cried out for him but did not properly feel the crying. She knew there was a reason for crying but she could not grasp what it was before it had gone. Now she was in a place where nothing seemed as strange as it should.
The fictional part of Nicola’s novel is when she moves on to those events which follow Robbie’s mother's death, when the family is torn apart, faced with homelessness and poverty and, when abandoned by his father, Robbie is left to care for his much younger sister, Essie. As his own situation declines, Robbie becomes involved with the criminals Burke and Hare, helping to transport their victims to a certain Dr Knox, initially unaware that the anatomist is in fact the very same man who Robbie still blames for causing his mother’s death – and on whom he seeks to exact revenge.
Fleshmarket is a thrilling novel aimed at the teenage market - but that should not put any adults off. It does not flinch from describing scenes of squalor and poverty whilst giving an accurate portrayal of medical practices at the time. It is also a sensitive story of the love between two siblings and the strength of the human spirit to endure against adversity and, ultimately, to forgive.
For more information regarding Nicola Morgan's writing, please visit her wesbite: Nicolamorgan.com
You may also like to know that Nicola writes a regular blog based on the business of writing. The brilliantly named Help! I need a publisher! is a must read for any aspiring writers. It is full of humour, warmth and common sense. I highly recommend it - not least because, only recently, Nicola interviewed the VV - yet another Essie - regarding the writing and forthcoming publication of her own novel, The Somnambulist.