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THE BEDLAM CADAVER
by Robert J. Lloyd
Melville House, June 2024
432 pages
$18.99
ISBN: 1685890954


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Robert J. Lloyd's Henry Hunt series has for some time documented the fictional sleuthing of the said Mr. Hunt--not the orator of Peterloo, but lab assistant, as it were, to the seventeenth-century scientist Robert Hooke, author of the microbiology tome MICROGRAPHIA. A central theme in the series has been emergent science's attempts to make sense of the world -- human and otherwise -- and how that is complicated by political intrigue and chaos.

In THE BEDLAM CADAVER, which begins in an anatomy demonstration, Lloyd continues the series in this vein (sorry). The scene is familiar from a lot of Gothic fiction and horror films and the painting THE ANATOMY LESSON: white European proto-scientist men in wigs peer pruriently at a young female body on the dissection table. Hunt is one of them, dispassionate and objective--until he recognizes the corpse. it's not a poor suicide from Bedlam. No, it is an aristocrat's daughter, and he figures that out only as his colleagues are in the process of sawing open her skull. Later, he finds the stab wound that indicates that her death was definitely not suicide, but murder. Hunt's subsequent investigations complicate his relationship with Hooke and cast him into the path of the Earl of Monmouth, illegitimate son of King Charles II and wannabe Next King. (For those who know where that historical plotline goes, his ambitions are ominous.) Several of these cast members are mixed up with the newly profitable Africa Company. Yes, they're investing in slavery. Science and slavery had an indissoluble common history, Lloyd shows. Meanwhile, Hunt is still interested in Hooke's niece, Grace, but she is not sure. She doesn't like the man that Hunt is becoming in his distinguished adulthood.

As usual, Lloyd's geography of a lost London is indexically precise and also evocative, his exploration of the Royal Society's explorations deeply interesting, and his hero's struggle to use the scientific method at the moment of its messy development drives an exciting plot. If you've read previous installments in the series, you won't be terribly surprised, but Lloyd anatomizes this corner of the past very well. I remain particularly impressed by Lloyd's unwillingness to modernize his characters, especially the leads, to clean up their biases, or to give them insight they would not have had in order to win the reader's sympathy. He goes for truth as best as it can be reconstructed and deployed. That choice is admirable and memorable. Will Hunt live to see the so-called Glorious Revolution (1688)? The birth of Jacobitism? The major achievements of Isaac Newton? I can't wait to find out.

Rebecca Nesvet is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay and co-edits Reviewing the Evidence.

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, June 2024

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