Thursday, November 24, 2011

"The Edinburgh Dead"

Brian Ruckley's books include the fantasy trilogy The Godless World, which consists of the books Winterbirth, Bloodheir, and Fall of Thanes.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, The Edinburgh Dead, and reported the following:
I'm a lucky, lucky fellow, because the fabled Page 69 turns out to be a pretty handy little introduction to key aspects of The Edinburgh Dead. Here's the first half or so of it:
The fallen lantern lay on its side, flame still fluttering, still throwing unsteady sheets of illumination across the graves. Quire left it where it lay. Duncan might need it, and Quire surely did not. It would rob him of his night eyes, and you could not shoot into darkness without eyes accustomed to it. He had learned that quickly enough in Spain.

The wall was a head higher than Quire. He threw himself at it, got both elbows hooked over, and dragged himself up, the toes of his boots scraping at stone.

Rough ground sloped away from the foot of the wall. Humps and hollows, their underlying nature disguised by the snow, made an undulating descent towards the banks of Duddingston Loch. Two figures were fleeing across that narrow expanse. The first was already disappearing into the dense, obscuring vegetation at the edge of the ice; the second, bigger, slower, shovel still held loosely in one hand was closer.

A fatter, brighter moon would have helped a good deal, for the world was indistinct. Imprecise. All shapes and shadows and shades of grey. But Quire knew - everybody knew - that the Resurrection Men did not come on the nights of a full moon. They liked the dark. So be it.
There's a lot of stuff that's important to the book wrapped up in there (and fortunately it's fairly representative of the tone and style, too).

'Quire' is one Adam Quire, a physically and psychologically scarred veteran of the Napoleonic Wars that came to an end in 1815 (hence the reference to Spain, which is where the British did most of their fighting against the French in those days), and by the time of the novel - 1828 - he's a sergeant in Edinburgh's police force.

What's he doing chasing mysterious figures through a graveyard at night? Well, he's after Resurrection Men. Graverobbers, in other words; folk who dug up graves, removed the corpses and sold them to the city's esteemed teachers of anatomy for dissection in front of their students. A gruesome trade, and the main inspiration for The Edinburgh Dead.

The book's been described as a ... deep breath ... historical gothic mystery horror urban supernatural thriller, which is fair enough (though I'd add crime high on the list, myself). It sounds complicated, but it all boils down to the one question that prompted me to write the book: What if Edinburgh's infamous 19th century graverobbers were supplying illegally obtained corpses not only to the respected anatomists, but also to other, darker figures, who had rather different purposes in mind for them?

The answer to that questions involves a sinister conspiracy, and takes the doggedly persistent Sergeant Quire on a journey through both the bright, elegant upper reaches of Edinburgh society at the time but also its crime-ridden underbelly. Along the way, plenty of real historical figures put in an appearance, including the most famous bodysnatchers of all: Burke and Hare.

And, by fortunate coincidence, the scene that starts on page 69 - specifically, what happens when Quire catches up with those graverobbers, out on the ice of a frozen loch - is one of my favourite from the whole book. It certainly comes as a surprise to Quire, but of course it's not a surprise I'm going to spoil here...
Learn more about The Edinburgh Dead at Brian Ruckley's website.

--Marshal Zeringue