Saturday, 13 April 2019

The Resurrection Fireplace by Hiroko Minagawa


The Resurrection Fireplace by Hiroko Minagawa
First published in Japanese as Hirakasete itadaki koei desu (Dilated to meet you) by Hayakawa Publishing Corporation in Japan in 2013. English language translation by Matt Treyvaud published by Bento Books on the 2nd April 2019.

Featured in Cover Characteristics: Blood and 5Books1Theme: Blindness, and one of my 2019 New Release Challenge reads

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


London, 1770. Brilliant physician Daniel Barton and his students are pioneering the modern science of anatomy with cadavers supplied by the “resurrection men” who prowl cemeteries for fresh graves. But their position becomes precarious with the appearance of two unexpected corpses: a boy with amputated limbs and a man without a face. When magistrate Sir John Fielding and his Bow Street Runners become involved, Barton’s students must clear their teacher’s name by uncovering the origin of the corpses—and their connection to Nathan Cullen, an aspiring poet recently arrived in London’s coffee houses whose work attracts the wrong kind of attention from publishers.

Hiroko Minagawa is a bestselling author of mystery, suspense, and fantasy novels, having published over 100 books in Japan since 1970. She has received numerous literary awards, including the Naoki Prize (1973, 1986) and the Japan Mystery Literature Prize (2012). The Resurrection Fireplace won the Honkaku Mystery Grand Prize in 2013. Despite her acclaim in Japan, this book is the first published English translation of one of her novels.

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!


Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Hiroko Minagawa / Historical fiction / Books from Japan

14 comments:

  1. I read a mystery about the Resurrectionists and got intrigued. This sounds pretty good and I do love it involves Sir John Fielding, too.

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    1. I was amazed to realise he was a genuine historic figure. I must have read about him before, but the information hadn't lodged in my brain!

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  2. Sounds intriguing - I do love a good mystery. Half of what makes mysteries great is the atmosphere, so glad that part was well-done. It is a lucky day when you find one you would read again!

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    1. Hopefully I can get all the mystery elements straight in my head next time around :-)

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  3. I hope you like it better the second time.

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    1. I just need to pick up on all the details - probably by reading slower!

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  4. It sounds like this mystery was a very good one and well deserving of the award it has won! I also love that the representation of the historical time period and the main character are all so well done too. A minor problem with the info dumps suddenly being thrown in, but I think this is the kind of one I would read regardless of it!

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    1. The info dumps were more a style problem for me so other readers might not be so irritated by them. The information itself was interesting

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  5. Now this sounds good. I've read stories about grave robbing for science..and am curious about the slight twist.

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    1. Minagawa really gets into the dark atmosphere of the period and the desperate methods used to get scientific specimens

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  6. A book you might want to read again? High praise indeed!

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    1. Absolutely! Though I'll have to wait a while until I've forgotten enough of it. I hate being to anticipate the story direction!

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  7. Replies
    1. It's gorgeous isn't it! I want a framed version for my wall!

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