As suggested by its sardonic, immediately intriguing title, The Life of a Teenage Body-Snatcher is a darkly funny novel with a macabre edge and an alluring tongue-in-cheek tone. Despite the historical setting – London, 1828 – it’s a thoroughly contemporary page-turner.
When body-snatcher Plenitude surprises Thomas Timewell exhuming his grandfather’s grave (in order to fulfil his dying wish of donating his body for science), he blackmails him to work for him, digging up bodies and selling them to hospitals. Soon Thomas finds himself pursued by a rival body-snatching gang, a gypsy fortune teller with a meat cleaver, and his suspicious mother, who turns out to harbour her own dark secret.
With its deadpan wit, galloping plot and sprawling cast of appealing eccentrics, this is a wonderfully original novel that will appeal to intelligent readers with a sense of humour.
Doug MacLeod is the author of the children’s classic Sister Madge’s Book of Nuns and the comic coming-of-age novels Siggy and Amber, I’m Being Stalked by a Moonshadow (which was shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards) and Tumble Turn. He is also a writer and producer for television, who has worked on many of Australia’s most popular comedy shows, including The Micallef Program, SeaChange and Kath and Kim, where he was the script editor. In 2008 Doug received the Fred Parsons Lifetime Achievement Award for Contribution to Australian Comedy at the Australian Writers’ Guild Awards.
In early 19th-century England, medical science needed human bodies for research. Late one night in a lonely graveyard, young Thomas Timewell is interrupted disinterring his grandfather’s body (at his grandfather’s request), and so begins his unwilling education in the dark art of resurrection. With deadly comic timing, The Life of a Teenage Body-Snatcher offers a rollicking historical novel in which Thomas Timewell survives an assassination attempt, endures a schoolmaster of monumental cruelty, and meets the unlikely love of his life. Doug MacLeod gives readers a darkly funny riposte to the slew of paranormal romance dominating the YA bookshelf.
In England, in 1828, grave-digging and body-snatching aren’t that uncommon. Nevertheless, 16-year-old Thomas Timewell’s life changes the night he decides to dig up his grandfather’s grave – he finds himself caught up in the life-and-death world of body-snatching. Faced with the mad and murderous villainy of body-snatchers, Thomas questions who he can trust. Meanwhile a semi-naked gypsy who holds the secrets of the past and future wants only to kill him! Gentlemanly Thomas remains calm, even in the most precarious of moments, using his wit and impeccable manners to overcome most obstacles.
Thomas, a happy sort, is never at a loss for words and narrates in a very candid way. Readers will enjoy his descriptions of the many eccentric and colourful characters, including the mysterious Plenitude; Thomas' hard-hearted, laudanum-addicted mother; the gassy cougar, Mrs Tilley; and the beautiful novelist, Victoria, who captures his heart.
MacLeod’s use of dialogue brings this historical novel into the 21st century, making it enjoyable for modern readers. The Life of a Teenage Body-Snatcher is exciting and refreshingly original, full of action-packed adventure, dark humour and mystery that mocks the hypocrisy of 1828. Cleverly written and humorous, readers will find themselves having a hard time putting this book down.
This review is by Kimberley Rickard of Frankston Library Service
Have you read this title? Tell us what you think.