Sunday, 3 February 2008

The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen

Bantam Press

IT probably wasn't a good idea to head for Yamamori and order the delicious haddock tempura just after picking up The Bone Garden for review.

Take it under advisement: don't eat while you're reading this. The early descriptions of a doctor examining pus-streaming victims of childbed fever, then wiping hands on a soiled towel and going on to an internal examination of the next mother are bad enough.

They progress to highly-scented accounts of dissections, with coils of intestines slopping into buckets or stretched back to the end of the lecture hall in didactic exercise. Icky.

A sketched-in modern story frames the main action, set in Boston in the 1830s, where medical students are learning their trade, largely on the poor Irish emigrants.

The Irish material is largely for colour "I'm greatly afeard 'tis time for me as well," murmurs young Aurnia, shortly before falling victim to Dr Crouch's infective hands.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, the doctor who would later, in reality, learn from Robert Collins, the Master of the Rotunda, how to avoid spreading the deadly plague of childbed fever (wash your hands, docs, wash your white coats) is a character here.

But mainly the thriller is a penny dreadful about secret lovers, hidden babes and the grave-robbers working in the black night.

Very silly, but great fun, and a book to pass some happy hours. Just don't order the tempura.

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