Some Rise By Sin

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Pub Date 15 Sep 2021 | Archive Date 30 Nov 2021


"I felt I was eavesdropping on genuine 19th-century grave robbers . . . the author's skilled prose . . . convinced me. I felt I was there in the rough and tumble streets of 1830s London. Grotesque, pathetic, yet with poignant moments of calm and welcome humour." - Tracy Chevalier

1829 is a tough year to be a body snatcher. Burke and Hare have just been convicted of killing people to sell their bodies, to widespread outrage—but despite the bad press, doctors still need fresh corpses for medical research.

Sammy and Facey are a couple of so-called ‘resurrection men’, making a living among society's fringe-dwellers by hoisting the newly departed from the churchyards of London whilst masquerading as late-night bakers. Operating on tip-offs and rumours in the capital’s drinking dens and fighting pits, the pair find themselves in receipt of some valuable intelligence: an unusual cadaver has popped up on the market, that of a hermaphrodite.

For any medic worth his salt it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—a medical curiosity and rara avis—and famous anatomist Joshua Brookes commissions the two men to obtain the body, at any cost. But some corpses hold secrets, and before long the enterprise becomes a deadlier and more complex undertaking than either man could ever have imagined.

Some Rise by Sin is a rich, authentic and absorbing historical narrative with a darker edge, a story of surviving on the outskirts of respectability. With echoes of Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White, it is meticulously researched and suffused with the dark and grimy atmosphere of Regency London, and explores what ambition can mean for poor people in a society that conspires to grind them down at every turn.

"I felt I was eavesdropping on genuine 19th-century grave robbers . . . the author's skilled prose . . . convinced me. I felt I was there in the rough and tumble streets of 1830s London. Grotesque...

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Average rating from 13 members

Featured Reviews

This is an entertaining picaresque novel which has something of the caper genre about it. Our narrator is one of a pair of lovable rogues and, throughout the story, they gather additional adherents to concoct an alternative family. For all their disreputable profession (they're grave robbers) the upper-class society which intersects at points with theirs is even more morally corrupt, and we can expect people to get their come-uppance by the end. What gives this its character is the writing: effusive, full of cant and slang, dynamic and effervescent. There has clearly, too, been a huge amount of research much of which appears here in the descriptions of streets, interiors, gambling dens and drinking houses. There are times when the description is a bit over-egged and the story is slow to emerge - so be patient. There's an extent to which this aligns itself with modern re-writings of Regency/nineteenth century novels (I was thinking of Fingersmith, especially) rather than authentic fiction written in the nineteenth century, though there's a bit of Oliver Twist in this book's DNA, and also, looking further back, something of Henry Fielding's 'Tom Jones'. So a rollicking adventure infused with the sights, smells and sounds of Regency London... just not the London more familiar from Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer.

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I feel I've been on a real adventure with this book,from the dark cemeteries and dirty graves,to the darker and dirtier streets of London. There's enough humour in here to balance out the brutality and boozing and blood. A good strong cast of characters,which I couldn't help but like every single one of the good guys,even the grumpy one. Definitely worth picking up.

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I adored this book, it was well written with good pace, good flow, well developed characters and vivid descriptions of settings from the dark and grimy streets of London to creepy and gothic graveyards. At times this was an uncomfortable brutal, bloody read but this was also counterbalanced with humorous moments. Overall an enjoyable and absorbing read.

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This is dark, its gritty and dirty. If you like or are familiar with London this will take you on a slightly different tour of London you've never been on before. Its sinister, creepy and tells you where not to go to meet people in a dark alleyway. Different to anything I've read before. Some great characters.

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Have you got your “Dictionary of 19th Century Bodysnatcher Lingo” at the ready? Then I’ll begin. Help here: . Mister Facey and his young sidekick Sammy have a steady business going, breaking into fresh graves, retrieving corpses and selling them to Regency London’s anatomical schools. Their bad luck is that Burke and Hare have just been sentenced and the authorities keep an extra-watchful eye on the goings-on in mortuaries and cemeteries. With sidelines in auction rigging, debt collecting and any dodgy money-making scheme going, Facey and Sammy just about scrape a living while Sammy is putting aside the meagrest amounts of money for his dream: a tiny tavern in the outskirts of the seedy city. But demand for corpses outstrips supply and rare anatomical variations command a premium. When the corpse of a hermaphrodite from a travelling fair is found, everybody is scrabbling to secure this particular and very valuable commission... Full of London life and death, quirky Regency characters, stews and molls, crime and grime and abject poverty, friendship and betrayal and all desperate attempts to rise above the cesspool that is the big city - its smelly, gory, violent underbelly. A full-on, no-holds-barred, macabre romp. Lovedlovedloved the title page design!

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This novel set amongst those living on the fringes in 1820s London scratches a Dickensian itch, while also having something of a modern Guy Ritchie style crime caper about it. Some Rise By Sin is populated by a host of memorable characters, starting with our protagonist Mr. Samuel Samuel. Sammy is partners with childhood friend Facey in the profession of stealing recently buried bodies for sale to men of medicine. It's a dishonourable profession but Sammy is a good man trying to survive a society and legal system that gives every advantage and means of life to those who possess a high position in the class system, and withholds the same from those on the low rungs. Given a valuable commission to retrieve the body of a reported hermaphrodite, which brings them into competition with a host of others involved in the affair for their own reasons, their efforts are complicated by their unfortunate recent theft of a body that involves a case of mistaken identity, resulting in a bounty being placed on their heads by local crime bosses. Trying to make it through this increasingly dangerous time and into a better sort of life, Sammy will have to step forward from his subordinate role to Facey and find the bravery and resoluteness necessary to see them and all their circle safely out the other side, if he can. He'll also need to depend on others around him: on the intelligence and quick wit of smallpox survivor Rosamund, on the generous friendship of retired bare knuckle boxer Tom, on the loyalty of the teenaged street manure seller Kak John, on the money of the heartsick gentleman Brookes, and not least on the dicey medical skill of the showman street stall doctor Nero. The writing brings this time and place richly to life. You'll feel like you actually are in a rough London tavern of two hundred years ago, overhearing the scheming and the disputes (and witnessing the terrible dental hygiene) in some of the language representative of the time. And then you'll see the loyalty, friendship and love present in the same places. Very much recommended.

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Saw a review recently of a new popular history book about the Georgians, in which the reviewer seemed in agreement with the author that the Georgians were a bit of an unknown quantity to most Britons, whose grasp of history tends to skip from the Tudors to the Victorians. Surely that couldn't be right, thinks I – what about prime-time entertainments like Blackadder the Third, or Sharpe? And then I remembered those are themselves historical now, and shuffled back to my crypt (although I'd still submit the ongoing, fathomless appetite for Regency romance as a counter-example). But apart from my own relic status, I think the other reason this seemed so odd is that if you're into the history of London specifically, psychogeographical rambles and excavations of our fruitier forebears, the Georgians loom much larger. Not to do down Pepys, Thomas Cromwell, or Chaucer, but for me Georgian London, with its gin and madhouses and Covent Garden ladies, is the first London that really feels like the modern city – or at any rate the city as it was until a few years back. Which makes that foment of rookeries and vice so much more bittersweet when compared to our own sanitised, gentrified, fun-still-only-tentatively-permitted husk of a place (except of course when the football was on, at which point London became every bit the lawless stew of the most vehement Georgian anti-urbanist propaganda, just with none of the good bits). It is that grimy, bawdy Georgian city, its pungent scents and grubby textures lovingly evoked through which Some Rise By Sin follows Mr Facey (brawn, temper) and Mr Samuel (brains, narrator), two ne'er-do-wells with fingers in many illicit pies. Probably the most significant for plot purposes, though, is that they are bodysnatchers. Not in either the ska or the alien sense, but in that they are resurrection men, or to put it plainest of all, they steal corpses. There's even a (possible) appearance here by one of their most notorious predecessors in the trade, and I loved the idea that other resurrection men were more outraged than anyone by Burke & Hare, for bringing their perfectly respectable hem hem trade into disrepute. What follows is in many respects classic noir, just pushed back a century and change, and with particularly morbid apparatus. Samuel and Facey get a lead on a Macguffin (a particularly unusual and thus lucrative cadaver), but also get heat from more powerful villains over a previous job (they lifted a dead'un they shouldn't have). Can they drag their increasingly bedraggled selves through the maze of competing interests, including their own self-destructive tendencies, make a new start for themselves, and rescue those who are somehow still innocents despite existing in this dog-eat-dog world? Running a bit longer than most noir, the old Doctor Who fan in me did occasionally wonder if it could happily have lost a round of capture/escape/recapture, but against that it must be admitted that Scott-Wilson is certainly inventive when it comes to keeping the settings and circumstances varied. More generally, too, the performance is suitably mired in the slang and the streets and the filth of the old city, and if it never quite had me as convinced I was there as Patrick O'Brian, well, who does? There are writers from the time who don't feel like they caught it as authentically as he did, which is particularly ironic when O'Brian's early nineteenth century self-confessedly doesn't even have the right number of days. Certainly Some Rise By Sin feels a lot less like a photocopy of a costume drama than many modern literary attempts to inhabit the period. Around Facey and Samuel mill a supporting cast who, while representing recognisable types of the time, never feel like they are only types - except perhaps for the vicious rich kid, but as we've been reminded these past few years, even in real life those do tend to be curiously flat and insubstantial characters, don't they? I was especially taken (as is Samuel) with Rosamund the pavement artist, who unlike many in her trade does chalk them fresh each time, the better to catch "a twist – in the light or the sky or the colours". She loves the ephemeral (a word she teaches a couple of the more receptive members of the cast); "I do believe that the heart must ache for there to be true beauty." And I suppose that sense of nothing lasting should inform one's sense of London. After all, despite its liveliness, there's plenty in this stinking, verminous, violent past city which one can be glad to see departed - especially the state of its healthcare, which forms one particularly queasy strand of the plot. It's almost enough to make one believe for a moment that the 2020s city might turn out to have some benefit to set against everything it's lost in recent years. Almost. (Netgalley ARC, plus the first publishing venture of a mate. Still, you can trust my word on all of this, ooh, at least as much as you can trust any of the leads in this book)

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A long tale but an immersing story with delightful wit and prose. A definite masterpiece thoroughly transported back in time with the characters and tale and never a dull moment. Can't wait to see what sion comes up with next, truly enjoyed the novel.

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Scott-Wilson's book features a cast of unlikely sweethearts- pugilists, surgeons, sideshow 'freaks', street urchins, debtors, hired thugs and 'resurrection men', who provide corpses (preferably young, preferably fresh) for the city's insatiable medical community. I love 'grubby' historical novels like Perfume: Story of a Murderer- ones where you can smell the smog and the Thames and the gin on the inhabitant's breath- and this novel succeeded where others fail, providing a diverse cast of well-rounded characters who dismantle stereotypes about what an 18th century man or woman should be. The plot is a nailbiting race, where stakes are upped and sides are switched with no warning. I will recommend this book to fans of authentic historical fiction as well as medical history and underground crime thrillers.

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The story is told by Sammy Samuel, a survivor on the streets of London in the early 19th century, accompanied by his childhood friend, Facey. Sammy and Facey are resurrectionists - stealing new corpses from graves to sell to anatomists. However, the body they steal causes them a world of hurt, bringing them into the sphere of some incredibly evil men. They then hear of an unusual corpse that seems to have disappeared, and set off to earn the bounty for its retrieval. The ensuing romp is well written, although not for the weak stomached, as the author spares the reader nothing of the details of the rough life of the time. The book enthralled me throughout, I had no problem at all with the cant language used throughout. Rosamund is a lovely flower in the dirt of London, and Pure John and Kak John are great characters. A thoroughly enjoyable read. Thank you to NetGalley and Deixis Press for allowing me access to the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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A rollicking and truculent fictional journey through the shallows of London at the tail-end of George IV's reign where we follow the unsavory shenanigans of two very unscrupulous rogues. Blessed with an unforgettable cast of lowlifes and cutthroats the fiendish plot gets darker and grittier as it sinks deeper and deeper into the twisty and despicable entrails of the nightmarish urban landscape. Graveyards, corpses and gore are on the menu, and once this incredible novel grabs you it will be very difficult to walk away from it without feeling absolutely and totally stunned. Last but not least fasten your seatbelt because you are in for a formidable and fascinating linguistic ride. The writing left me totally gobsmacked most of the time. Such magnificent verbal pyrotechnics are so rare and so fiendishly good that I ended up rereading some parts aloud. Just unbelievable! A magnificent novel that deserves to be enjoyed without any moderation whatsoever! Bravo! Many thanks to Netgalley and Deixis Press for this unforgettable reading experience👍👍

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Some Rise By Sin is a rich, authentic and compelling historical novel with a dark edge, set against the grimy backdrop of Regency London. 1829, London. A year after the notorious Burker murders and London medical schools are still crying out for cadavers. Sammy and Facey are a couple of so-called ‘resurrection men’. Their aim is to buy a modest boozing ken and retire. They’re almost there; so close they can taste it. However, an unusual cadaver has popped up on the market: that of Bobby Herman, a hermaphrodite; scientific curiosity and rara avis. Famous anatomist, Joshua Brookes, commissions the two men to obtain it, at any cost but the word is out and others in the profession are already on the trail. What’s more, Bobby's corpse holds secrets, and, before long, the enterprise becomes a deadlier and more complex undertaking than either man could ever have imagined. To locate this elusive cadaver Sammy must navigate the treacherous streets of pre-Victorian London from the opium dens of Whitechapel and the rookeries of St Giles to the cockpits of Westminster and the opulent drawing rooms of the West End. As Sammy learns more about the curious circumstances of Bobby Herman's life and death he finds himself stalked by a powerful underworld cabal and comes face to face with a ruthless and twisted aristocratic predator. With the aid of his sweetheart Rosamund, the pox-scarred, but resourceful, street artist and Kak John, the 'Pure' collector, ultimately, Sammy finds a way to turn the hunters against one another. This is a compulsive, intriguing and beautifully written piece of historical fiction that is rich in the atmosphere of 19th century Britain. It's not often a book comes along that blows you away with its astounding originality and inventiveness, but Some Rise By Sin absolutely did. It's gritty and intense with a superbly woven narrative and an authenticity many books set in this era are sorely lacking. The descriptions are so vivid and immerse you in the story so well that you can see, smell and hear the city from between these pages. It evokes the griminess and grubbiness perfectly and the idiosyncratic characters who walked these streets are both fascinating and engaging. From street urchins and circus freaks to boxers, surgeons and prostitutes, it is peopled by a cast who really come alive on the page. This is a beautifully crafted, historical novel with dark, horror elements balanced against witty humour and is both deeply philosophical but highly readable, with themes around class and poverty that are really relevant to a modern audience. Built on a fascinating blend of fact and fiction, the plot is multilayered and full of surprises, twists and strategic reveals. It's a powerful, sinister and absorbing read from the very start, and although it is very much a slow burner, this allows time for you to properly acquaint yourself with the characters and immerse yourself in the narrative. It's a brilliant read with enough drama, mystery, medical shenanigans and stunning descriptions to keep even the most demanding reader satisfied. Highly recommended.

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Take the author’s hand, and let him guide you back to Regency London 1829, from the overcrowding, poverty, filth and disease, to the grand homes of the wealthy. In the poorest of communities we meet our protagonists, Sammy and Facey, resurrection men, who make their living snatching the newly departed from their resting places in the churchyard, and selling them for medical research. During their work they come across a valuable piece of information, it is rumoured that a most unusual cadaver has come onto the market, a hermaphrodite, which to a body snatcher could be worth a small fortune. Famous anatomist Joshua Brookes commissions two men to bring him the body, whatever the cost. However, everyone wants this cadaver and will stop at nothing to get their hands on it. This was a fascinating well researched tale, set on the fringes of respectability, showing just how dire it was to be among the poorest of the city, a place of gambling dens, dark and creepy churchyards, back street pubs where the sensible wouldn’t venture, circus freak shows, and in contrast it also takes us into the plush parlours of the toffs, though the criminal element is apparent whatever one’s station in life. Some wonderful dialogue - “They do say that London is like a man reclining : the West End is his head, the shining face of our metropolis ; the City, a great belly - a repository of trade, our sustenance; the East End, his arse.” Siôn Scott-Wilson has written a cracking, well researched piece of historical fiction, it’s brutal but exciting, funny and very authentic, all in all a terrific read!

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