The Resurrection Fireplace

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 04 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

DNF at 9%

A mystery set in historical London, including a group of scientists studying the human anatomy through cadavers provided by resurrectionists? Objectively that sounds like something I would enjoy, and maybe the setting, the atmosphere and the mystery itself would have been worthwile, but because of certain things already present in the first chapter alone, I knew that my reading experience would have been too arduous to actually enjoy it.

The things I didn't like are:

01. Too many characters. I couldn't keep all of the students apart and it didn't help that..
02. ..the writing seems to be pretty dialogue-heavy? Most of the time there aren't even any indications of who is talking (except that it must be one of the many students), which is really confusing.
03. Infodumps. I do appreciate historical context, but it shouldn't read like a know-it-all character quotes Wikipedia in the middle of a scene.

Sorry it didn't work for me!
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I received two copies, neither worked upon downloading them. Because of this I can't leave a review but need to provide feedback to keep my profile rating up as it doesn't take into account the bad files a reviewer receives.  If I don't leave feedback then it hurts my review qualifications. But I like this premise and will get this book when it comes out and will read and review it then,
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A solid, well-written book with an engaging, if slightly contrived, mystery. It shows London and adds plenty of historical flavours here and there. While most details were nicely pictured they also slowed down the story. All in all, I liked it.
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The Resurrection Fireplace is an intriguingly plotted crime mystery which makes full and inspired use of its Georgian London setting. Minagawa shows us the overcrowded city in all her shameful glory and at times I felt as though London's character was more strongly portrayed than those of our sleuths. There are a few more central roles than I thought necessary, particularly in Daniel Barton's five students, three of whom never really rose from the page. However I loved the character of Barton himself - scientifically brilliant, but with limited knowledge of the everyday - and the depictions of magistrate John Fielding's using his blindness as an aide rather than a handicap added a memorably unusual element to the story. John Fielding did actually exist in real life and he and his brother's founding of the Bow Street Runners is referenced in depth. Minagawa does step aside from her story from time to time to impart historical knowledge to her readers which unfortunately I found distracting. The information itself was interesting, but the jumps from being within a historical setting to looking back at history took me out of the atmosphere.



The mystery narrative itself is wonderfully convoluted encompassing the scandals and passions of the day from political intrigues to family secrets. We are led by clues and red herrings all over the city into coffeehouses and pubs, tearooms and private homes. The infamous Newgate prison was particularly harrowing to read about, even more so than autopsy and dissection details of which there are lots (this isn't a novel for particularly squeamish readers). There is so much within The Resurrection Fireplace to make it a great story - plus that gorgeous cover art! - but it didn't quite hit the mark for me. I loved the setting and the whole glorious swirl of London life, but I never quite felt as though I was in step with the mystery elements. Perhaps I wasn't concentrating enough, but even when I finally knew the resolution, I still couldn't quite get everything to fit. It's exasperating! The Resurrection Fireplace may turn out to be one of those rare beasts - a book I shall read twice!
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This is a fascinating piece: a mystery novel by a Japanese writer set in 18th century London. It comes to us in English translation for the first time, having won the 2012 Honkaku Mystery Grand Prize on its release in Japan. It is important to recognise the origins of the novel, for those who are familiar with the tradition of detective/mystery stories from Japan will recognise a lot in its style and pacing. Those familiar with the understated doggedness of detectives in the tradition of Matsumoto’s Inspector Imanishi or Higashino’s Detective Kaga, for example, will find comfort in the investigation run by Sir John Fielding, a blind magistrate who is ably assisted by his niece Anne Moore. 

In the house of Daniel Barton, surgeon and anatomist, he and his group of students dissect human cadavers, brought to them by grave robbers, to pursue the advancement of human anatomical understanding. In a secret cellar, built behind the fireplace (hence the title) two bodies are discovered: one, a limbless torso of a young man, and the other, a mutilated body of a middle-aged man. Meanwhile, a young man named Nathan Cullen arrives in London with grand plans to be a famous writer, and bears with him a ‘discovered’ ancient poem he is hoping to sell. As we learn, there are two slightly different timelines in play here, and as they converge the story starts to develop. There are locked-room mysteries, suspects aplenty, and as the characters try to explore and solve the mystery of the bodies and how they came to be where they were found, and indeed who they are, some people know more about it that they are letting on…

This is not a fast-paced book, let’s be honest. There is a lot of dialogue, and this is where the heart of the book lies. It is about untangling the mystery, of logically unpicking the clues and obfuscation, to arrive at the truth. The narrative style is, at first, a little different from what we might expect; indeed, the narrator him/herself becomes a character with asides and comments on what is unfolding before us (for example, as Anne Moore introduces herself the narrator interjects: ‘It was ridiculous! How could a woman assist a magistrate?’). There is humour too, amidst the blood and gore of the dissection table; Daniel Barton is described as being ‘just past forty, with a countenance not unlike a potato’. There are plenty of twists and turns, and just as we think the case has been solved then another one comes along to pull the rug from under your feet.

I enjoyed this; as a fan of Japanese literature I felt quite comfortable in the strangely hybrid world conjured up by Minagawa. For some it might be a little unsettling, but for fans of the mystery novel I think this is definitely a must-read. The world of late 18th century London is brought to life, the characters are interesting in a two-dimensional way (the solving of the mystery is paramount), and those familiar with the story of Thomas Chatterton will take pleasure in recognising the parallels with Nathan Cullen’s story, which adds a whole new level to the book. For me, excellent stuff!

(With thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of this title.)
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I requested this book from NetGalley because

a) I love mysteries,

b) I like Japan, and

c) The idea of a Japanese novelist writing a mystery set in London in 1770 really intrigues me for some reason. Not to mention the fact that this novel has won the 2012 Honkaku Mystery Grand Prize, which means that it’s supposed to be authentic.

The Resurrection Fireplace is about Professor Daniel Barton and two of his students – Edward and Nigel. He has other students, but these are the two most important ones. Because Professor Barton and his students use stolen corpses for their dissection, they have to hide the body when the Bow Street Runners come. But when they pull the corpse back up, they realise that there are two additional corpses: that of a young boy with all his limbs cut off, and a man without his face. The professor and his students are basically forced into helping the investigation by Sir John, the magistrate, and Anne, his eyes and hands.

At the same time, Nathan, a young poet from the countryside, arrives in the city with two manuscripts. He visits Tyndale, expecting to be published, but things don’t go as they plan. Luckily for him, he meets Edward and Nigel.

So at the start of the book, I thought it seemed pretty Japanese. The way that Barton’s students talk to him were quite similar to the way that students in Japan talk. But as I continued reading, I was pulled into their world and completely forgot about who the author was.

I gotta say, the first few chapters are very long, but the book does pick up pace and the last few chapters were amazing. There were so many twists and even though they were pretty out there, I thought they were plausible. The ending was very strong and I loved it.

Out of all the characters, my favourite was (unsurprisingly) Anne. She’s basically the only female character with substantial page-time and she showed that she could hold her own against all those guys. As the representative of Sir John, she gets to go to a lot of places to make enquiries and has a fair amount of agency. The other female characters, either don’t appear a lot or are dead. And the Professor was smart but clueless most of the time, while his students were a little shady. So yup, favourite character in the book.

This was an interesting book. I was a bit confused at the start, given that three bodies turn up in one chapter, but once I was drawn into the world, I found myself unable to stop reading until I found out what had happened.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.
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Thanks to Bento Books and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.

This book should have been everything I would like. I tend to enjoy books written by Japanese authors and I enjoy historical fiction. I've recently read a few mystery/crime novels set in similar time and setting (Fingersmith, Once Upon a River, Things in Jars) so I was hoping for a good read. I also enjoy books about medical history/Resurrectionists so this ticked all the boxes.

Despite all of this, I just couldn't really gel with this book. It is well written for sure, if a little dialogue heavy. I found it quite confusing and difficult to follow at times, perhaps to do with the translation.

The story follows a group of medical students and their Professor who dabble in some light body snatching. Whilst concealing the body of a young woman in a trick fireplace, they discover two extra bodies hidden as well. The story also follows a young aspiring poet, Nathan, and his story is interspersed through the main narrative. The London setting is portrayed well and the medical history aspect is interesting. I wasn't really gripped by the main story however, and things don't even begin to pick up until about 25% of the way in. I don't really think a reader should have to read a quarter of a book until it starts to get interesting. The characters fell a bit flat for me too and I kept getting them mixed up.

Overall, I really felt I should have loved this book but I just didn't. My rating is based purely on my own feelings towards it, not the quality of the writing or the author's overall talent.
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What is unusual about this book is that even though it is set in England in 1770 it was originally written in Japanese.  Although the author is well known in Japan I have not read any other novel written by her.  She has won a number of different awards over the years but only a couple of her books have been translated into English.

I found the opening of the novel somewhat confusing but gradually began to follow the thread of the plot.  Dr Daniel Barton finds himself in possession of three bodies and as the novel develops we learn that we are discovering what happened to each of the ‘bodies’ prior to their death.
I found the character of Sir John Fielding, the blind magistrate, very engaging.

There were plot twists which I found entertaining and unpredictable.  All in all an enjoyable historical novel.
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Equally fascinating and horrifying . . . The pages seem to turn themselves.”
Powerful . . . white-knuckle suspense at its finest... It's rare to find books about this time period that are as  compelling as this, really enjoyed it !
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"I do not like to be touched by strangers." 
"You have no right to refuse, Mr. Turner," Anne told him. "Sir John holds people's hands because he cannot see them." 
"But that is to help him detect an offender, is it not? I am confessing to the crime myself." 
"Your confession may be a lie," said Anne. 
"What reason have I to lie?" She paused. 
"To protect someone, perhaps," she said finally. [loc. 4036]

The setting is London in 1770. Dr Daniel Barton and his students are happily dissecting the corpse of a pregnant woman when they're alerted to the approach of the Bow Street Runners. Quickly concealing the cadaver in the oddly-designed fireplace, they brazen out the questions. But when the students go retrieve the corpse, it has company: the body of a young man with arms and legs amputated, and the body of a middle-aged man whose face has been destroyed. 

The chapters concerning Dr Barton and his students alternate with those telling the story of Nathan Cullen, a young poet who has come to London seeking fame and fortune. He possesses a manuscript which he hopes will be of interest to antiquarians: but can he find a reputable publisher? And will he ever have a chance with the beautiful, wealthy and well-bred Elaine? Luckily he falls into good company: a couple of medical students, who take pity on him ...

This has the makings of an excellent crime novel, but I was annoyed by the frequent explanations of historical context, which broke the flow of the narrative and drew attention to its artificiality. ("'Was it lack of funds to bring suit against him?' In France and elsewhere, the state itself could indict an offender against whom there was no one willing to take legal action. In eighteenth-century England, however, only a suit from a private citizen could launch a trial. [loc. 4412]). Furthermore, there were some historical details that simply didn't ring true. For instance, there's a rumour that the pregnant cadaver was pregnant by a 'negro'. "Impossible! This is not the colonies, after all. Where would she even meet one? We have no slaves in London..." [loc 2310]. But in 1772, just two years after this novel is set, the black population of London was estimated to be at least 10,000. 

There are also errors, in translation or in editing, that vexed me. One minor character's name changes from Hooper to Cooper (and possibly back again). More seriously, another character bears a grudge against the judiciary because of his father's unjust execution: yet he explains to a friend 'there are things I cannot ask my father to buy' [loc 4486]. Since this is a crime novel, I leapt on this apparent clue: his father isn't dead after all? I eventually concluded that it was a consequence of some wording in the original Japanese, whereby 'father' and 'benevolent professor' / 'mentor' may have been conflated.

Those criticisms aside, I did enjoy aspects of the story. The blind magistrate Sir John Fielding and his able assistant Anne were capable and creative investigators, and students Nigel and Edward very likeable (even before their 'trangression', portrayed without judgement, was revealed). The murders, and their motivations, were pleasantly twisty, and there were surprises even in the last few pages. And I did like the fictionalisation of the Thomas Chatterton affair. On the whole, though, I found the style alienating.
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I thought the descriptions of 1700's London were absolutely fantastic. The state of medicine at that time was unknown to me and I loved learning about it. However, the characters were a little too underdeveloped. I did like the story and history so would recommend it highly
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This book starts out rather slow, but it picks up at about 20% and from there, it is exciting and refreshing. I liked the history included in this book and thought the author did an excellent job of recreating London during the period the book is set in. The descriptions were sometimes a bit graphic, but that should well be expected with a book of this nature and subject matter. 


I liked the characters a lot, and thought the mysteries were interesting and fun to work out. This is a decently long book, so it will give you a solid day or so of entertainment and would be a good one to bring along with you on a trip. I particularly liked the descriptions of the old books and the processes of binding that were done in those days. Makes mass market paperbacks look so sad by comparison. 


Overall, I thought this was a wonderful book with a lot to keep the reader interested in it. I look forward to hearing the thoughts of others as word about this book spreads. 


This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher, provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.
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Found this a little bit of a struggle to get into, seemed like a lot of over explaining in the first few chapters, that made it very difficult to engage with the characters and storyline, but overall this was an interesting, well researched book.
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L'idée est excellente - des étudiants en médecine au XVIIIe siècle. Toutefois, le style d'écriture me laissa de marbre, parfois avec quelques haussements de sourcils : sensibilité excessive, ce qui m'agace. Plus ma lecture progressait, moins j'étais encline à la poursuivre. Comme il s'agit d'une question stylistique, il est très possible que ce livre fasse fureur auprès d'autres lecteurs.trices !
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I DNFd this book 20% of the way in. The premise and story were interesting but I just couldn’t stand the writing. I’m holding on to the idea that maybe the book will be rereleased with a better translation someday.
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The Resurrection Fireplace
by Hiroko Minagawa
Bento Books, Inc.
Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), Members' Titles
Historical Fiction , Mystery & Thrillers
I as absolutely ecstatic to see how the author brought this period of history to life in this book! The author did their home wok on 18th century England is the first thing i was impressed with as well as the very characters and descriptions both in scenario as well as individual personality makeups. as well as weaving an incredibly delightful tale to keep you on the edge. England was the type of place after the Romans where anything less than nobility or wealthy was not the level of society you would want to be. Crushing poverty for most that though made better than the serfs of the dark & middles ages [whose plights were  only changed in part from the plague that killed so many the over lords had to actually start paying for some services crafts and trade],life was short and usually miserable. The level of financial reliance and profit on the slave trade by the wealthy that invested was touched on and was such a forced situation with moneylenders, banks and investors that merchants actually had to have alt least one ship of human merchandise [their terms] to get credit or a loan or insurance. The quality of non gentry life is also brought to life as well as the level of medical actions and knowledge of the times. With all that said vivisectionists & most surgeons resorted to grave robbery though the use of ruffians and surgeons were looked at lower than the average physicians though they were based in foolish ideas and claims like vapours and blood letting. Thus starts the tale of one dissecting professor with his students, bodies and a fireplace that seemed to produce more. Definitely recommend
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Fun murder mystery, albeit gory, gruesome and grim in many parts. Not usually my cup of tea, but it had enough redeeming character for me to recommend. Quite a few twists with a very twisty ending...the characters were well-developed enough that I could see a series being built on them, and I'd gladly read it.

I learned quite a few interesting facts about 18th century London by taking a little time to look up some of the references that I was unfamiliar with (such as the Window Tax.) Once the story was well underway, there was less emphasis on the nitty-gritty of living and my compulsion to stop and do research diminished.
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I think what caught me off guard about this book is that it's set in 18th century London but originally written in Japanese. But that was what originally drew me to The Resurrection Fireplace - I do enjoy some Japanese authors as well as most novels set in the dawn of medical forensics.

This book had a somewhat confusing start but as things unfolded, we find that Dr Daniel Barton's school of anatomy is in possession of three bodies, one of them an unexpected discovery in their special hiding place in the fireplace. 

The plot progresses into a dual timeline in which we soon realise that we were following the footsteps of the bodies before they ended up on the slabs. At some point, a blind magistrate got into the investigation, which proved to be so interesting a character that I was starting to think that this book was about him.

The plot twist was not something that I expected, and was the kind of thing that could be fully appreciated with a rereading. An entertaining read and satisfying finish  once you get past the first chapters.
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I received an arc copy for an honest review from NetGalley, which is the only reason that I finished the book.  

The first quarter of the book was confusing and disjointed.  Normally, I would have quit reading by then.  If a book doesn’t catch me in the first fifty pages, I go on to the next book.  It wasn’t until past that part that you were even told that there were two timelines. There was so much description of times and places that doesn’t move the story, that I had to skim to get to the actual story.

If I start to like a character, they would change to the point that I really didn’t care for or connect to any of the characters.  There was a twist at the end, but it was too little, too late.
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Like with interpersonal relationships, a book can be a perfect match for one person and a disaster for another and it’s no one’s fault, just a lack of chemistry. Such was the case with The Resurrection Fireplace for me. It is well written and the mystery is smart, I just found the style too dense and hard to read. I never connected with the characters and the story is full of details that fans of historical fiction will find fascinating but just bored me. I can’t stress enough that it’s not the book’s or the author’s fault, it was just the wrong novel for me. 
I chose to read this book and all opinions in this review are my own and completely unbiased. Thank you, NetGalley/ Bento Books, Inc.!
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