Andrew Johnston
June 25, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Half true-crime potboiler and half social history, Wise’s first book uses a grizzly 1831 murder to explore the world of London’s ”resurrection men,” criminals who lined their pockets by digging up fresh corpses and selling them to medical schools. Some, including John Bishop and Thomas Williams, skipped the excavation stage and sold the bodies of folks they killed themselves. The arrest of Bishop and Williams for the murder of a nameless Italian beggar created a media frenzy — and, according to Wise, influenced the work of Charles Dickens (who may have covered the case as a cub reporter). Despite a dry account of the lurid trial, Wise paints a rich portrait of a society experiencing seismic changes in law enforcement, medical education, and social welfare.

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