27 May 2010

Review: The Minutes of the Lazarus Club | Tony Pollard

I picked up this little gem for $8 and I think I got more than my money's worth on this one. Set in London in the 1850s, this is a period piece, with the main character being Dr Phillips, a surgeon in a hospital. Dr Phillips is soon befriended by Brunel, the Engineer behind the building of the 'Great Eastern' steam ship, and a connection to the secret society of the Lazarus Club begins to emerge.

Interestingly enough, Pollard takes several well-known historical figures and weaves them into his story, e.g. Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale. More interesting than that though was the concept of the Lazarus Club, where like minded genius' and great thinkers gather to discuss science, innovation and share their expertise. At each meeting, a guest is invited or chosen from a different field of expertise to make a speech to the members present. Minutes are kept from these meetings, hence the name of the book, however the minutes themselves didn't play a large role in the novel. The concept of the Lazarus Club alone could have kept my attention, learning about the content and nature of the different speeches and how they were received by the members at the time and why they had to remain so secretive.

The building of the massive steam ship 'SS Great Eastern' and it's launch into the Thames was equally fascinating throughout the book. I guess when I think of giant ships, I don't imagine a ship with sails, funnels and paddle wheels! Amazing! The mystery of the murdered prostitutes introduced a minor crime thread into the novel, although I didn't think this was necessary to the plot development.

Without giving too much away, an additional sub-plot involving the design of an artificial organ for the body was very interesting for it's time, and who doesn't like a little grave robbery thrown into the mix? I admire the precision with which Pollard brought London alive for this period, and I was completely taken by the sights and smells of the river and the streets and the daily minutiae of the era.

This is Pollard's first novel, and I'll certainly be on the look out for his next. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a little historical fiction, science, anatomy, ship building and a good river chase!

My rating = ***1/2

Carpe Librum!

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