Saturday, March 14, 2009
Review: The Italian Boy, by Sarah Wise
The Italian Boy is the story of a little-known 19th century murder. The story begins in 1832 with the delivery of the body of an “Italian boy” to one of London’s many private medical schools. In the 19th century, medical schools acquired subjects to practice on from London’s many pauper’s graves; the body of the body was fresher than one might expect, and lacked burial marks.
What followed was an investigation into the murder of an Italian boy, never fully identified by contemporaries. The search for the boy’s murderers led to the infamous trial of his suppliers—John Bishop, James May, and Thomas Williams. The murders echoed those of Burke and Hare, two famous resurrectionists after whom the term “burking” was coined.
I liked this book, sort of. Although the author goes off on tangents (she talks in general about poverty in the early 19th century, Italian politics, and the Smithfield meat market, which seemed to me to be “filler” for the book, almost like a newspaper article extended to a 300-page book), she presents to her reader a compelling murder story with a bit of a mystery—who was the Italian boy that Bishp, May and Williams supplied to Kings College? On the other hand, I felt as though the author failed to draw any conclusions about the murder, murderers, or to connect various pieces of the puzzle. The book is accompanied by nice engraving reproductions.