The race to the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for Best First Novel is heating up – I gave a big thumbs up to former CIA agent Jason Matthew’s debut spy thriller Red Sparrow. Reviewing, rating and ranking time is here for Matthew Guinn’s novel that blends the present and past at the South Carolina Medical College, The Resurrectionist. In an unlikely set-up, protagonist Dr. Jacob Thacker is a physician whose addiction to Xanax has led to his probation and subsequent interim position as public relations director for the medical school dean.
Things heat up for Dr. Thacker when construction workers discover human bones buried in the basement of a campus building. The unsavory showboat of a medical school dean is determined to cover it up, while Jacob’s ethics – such as they are – compel him to oppose the plan. How the bodies came to the basement is a more engrossing story, revealing the venal nature of the medical school origins. Forget the noble hall of higher learning – it was all about getting tuition dollars from as many would-be physician as they could churn through the system. And more students requires more teaching aids… specifically, human bodies for dissection to teach anatomy and for surgical training. Enter Nemo, a slave purchased by one of the school’s founders for his skill with a knife, who develops his own surgical skills at the school by day, while stealing bodies from the cemetery at night. While Jacob struggles in present day, Nemo has his own trials back in the day. Through clever plotting, both Jacob and Nemo triumph against their respective tormentors.
Here’s what I liked about The Resurrectionist:
- The historical underpinnings of the novel were interesting.
- Both Thacker and Nemo are flawed heroes.
- The cinematic comeuppance of the smarmy medical school dean.
Unfortunately, I never bought the set-up for Jacob’s character and the present-day story was thin – a little too Nicolas Cage in National Treasure. And while the historical aspect was way more interesting, Nemo was just too darn scary for me to root for him.
Fortunately, it makes ranking Red Sparrow vs. The Resurrectionist easy-peasy.