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In a city still recovering from the ravages of plague and fire, two doctors crisscross the boundaries of morality. It is a challenge that leads Sir Edmund Calcraft, an eminent and notorious anatomist, and Joseph Bendix, his ambitious young student, into playing a dark game with the growing criminal underworld. At the heart of the book lies a haunting love story that both drives and threatens to destroy their quest.
In gallows and madhouses, in anatomical laboratories and a “Frost Fair” set on the frozen Thames, the two men engage in a competition involving both head and heart. Mixing history, myth, medicine, and fiction, The House of Sight and Shadow is a compelling tale about the fallibility of both love and reason.
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Nicholas Griffin grew up in England and New York and wrote his first novel, The Requiem Shark, after genealogical research turned up a pirate in his family tree. He is at work on a third novel, also set in the eighteenth century, about a group of troublesome young Englishmen on a grand tour of Italy.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Joseph Bendix looked down upon London from the heights of Blackheath. A musty warmth had parted the skirts of smoke above the city, illuminating her fresh brick, her tight alleys. The sun had baked the surface of the mud, creating a thick crust for their carriage. At noon there were no shadows. Reluctantly, Bendix climbed back into the coach, taking the same position between the two elderly ladies that he had held all the way from Dover. Sharp spokes of light lanced the perforations of tin-sheeted windows, so that all could see the choking dust they breathed. Their descent into London was accompanied by the eruption of conversation, which Bendix had so carefully quelled through the miles.
“They say,” said Mrs. Sexton, “that there are leopards in the Tower. . . .”
“Perhaps,” added the flat-nosed Mr. Harper, “they still show the two-legged dog that was so prominent during my last visitation.”
“My sister writes,” continued Mrs. Sexton, “that they now display the entire skin of a Moor. Tanned. With the hair on it. Shall you be seeing it, Mr. Bendix?”
“No, madam, I shall not,” said Bendix and stared straight ahead.
“Was there much entertainment in Paris?” inquired Mrs. Sexton.
Bendix held his silence and cursed the lack of funds that condemned him to travel in so ungentlemanly a manner. They bumped and walloped and knocked against one another as the horses strained down the hill. They picked up two more ladies at an inn in Deptford, put one down by the horse ferry at Southwark, and, at the death of the day, finally entered the gates of London. An old Englishman in Paris had told him of the London of his youth. How she had been racked by plague, freshened by fire, rebuilt. Up went a thousand houses, narrow passages returning where men had dreamt of the wide boulevards of Paris and the majesty of St. Petersburg. There were parts erected that held splendour: the embankment of the Thames, the precise angles of Soho Square and St. James. St. Paul’s shone above the city, but even her beauty was not so far from Pudding Lane, from the warped rooftops of Blowbladder Street. But Bendix saw none of this, gazing only at the tempered rind of Mrs. Sexton’s cuticles and the long hairs that curled from her nostrils. Had the coach not carried all his belongings in the world, he would have leaped out and walked alone. He could hear carriages travelling both in front and behind him. The air was thick, dirtier than in Paris, thought Bendix, and weighed with the heavy smell of horse dung and the laboured breath of driven cattle. Mrs. Sexton held a handkerchief to her nose. The remaining lady from Deptford laughed at her affronted sensibilities.
Mr. Harper leaned forward and tapped Bendix upon the knee with his cane. “You visit family?” he inquired.
Bendix shook his head in reply. “My father is long departed.”
“Northumberland,” replied Bendix with the start of a smile. Harper let the conversation die. By the time they pulled up at the Black Horse, a portion of Bendix’s good humour had returned to him. He helped all of the women down from the coach and hired a broad-backed porter to sweat his belongings up to the room.
Opening his trunk, he removed his writing case and immediately scratched a brief note to the doctor, letting him know of his intention to call the following day. He descended with his missive. The landlord advised him not to trust the evening post and proposed two linkboys, sitting by the empty grate. Bendix gave one a pair of pennies to deliver his note and letter of recommendation. The second he hired to guard and guide him up Drury Lane. He walked for a mixture of edification and amusement—to take a turn about the city in which his parents had been raised. It took him no more than one stretch upon Drury Lane to deduce why his father had abandoned London in favour of the North. The street was abustle with a confused mingling of peoples. The silks of gentlemen, the sight of beggars, children cursed with misshapen limbs. More frightening was the concentration of the unplaceable. Persons he suspected might be actors, women he presumed to be whores, noblemen he supposed as penniless as himself. London, he decided, was a fallen honeycomb, the bees long ago ceding their territory to flightless grubs.
He returned to the Black Horse, paid his linkboy as he extinguished his torch in a bucket of water, and vigorously patted the dust from his breeches. In his room Bendix undressed quickly, sipped at the wine his landlord had left, and finally removed his peruke. The hair beneath was closely shaved, a sphere of stubble flecked with grey. He blew out the candle and walked naked to the window with his glass. Beneath him, in the dim light granted by the tavern, ran a thoroughfare of shadows. He watched the affectionate touch of hand on hand and felt the sharp pang of the lonely. Bendix knew not a soul in the city. Having lost his father’s letters of recommendation many moons ago, he now relied upon one remaining connection. He could not think of a single man who would now write him another. Awaiting his meeting with the doctor, he slept fitfully throughout a hot and anxious night. The morning found Bendix ensconced at a table in Tom’s Coffee House, a short walk from the Black Horse. He read the Daily Courant, noted the upcoming trials and politicking, and held the news-sheet high to disguise his loneliness. In Paris he had had a small circle of friends, fellow students of medicine. They had drifted from Bendix during his rise, then stood back and crossed their arms to watch him fall. Mocking Parisians had laughed that London thought itself the centre of civilization. All agreed that the House of Hanover was now established and, as the monarchy began to flourish, Bendix believed King George would encourage his nation with money. Where there was money, there was advancement, opportunity. Great men were found only in great nations. In truth, Bendix’s return was not simply a matter of coin, though he would have insisted on the lie had anyone asked. In the circles in which he had moved, money was a more understandable excuse than love. He had heard of the doctor, Sir Edmund Calcraft, from his own tutor, Bertrand LeMaître, who had attended the doctor’s lithotomic lectures on the art of cutting for stones at the turn of the century. There was, LeMaître insisted, no man in Europe who cut a patient as well as Calcraft. None with the disrespect necessary for the advancement of knowledge since sixty years ago, when Boyle and Hooke had suffocated birds to measure the “spring” of air in sealed vessels. But Calcraft had not taken a student in twenty years, had not operated in twenty years. Rumour, said LeMaître, held that Calcraft had not left his house in a decade.
“Why,” Bendix had asked, “would he even consider taking me as an apprentice?”
“Why does a man marry if he has no need of children or money?” answered his tutor.
“For love,” replied Bendix immediately.
“Or,” said LeMaître, “for companionship. I shall write you a letter.”
“What does he work on?” asked Bendix.
LeMaître shook his head. It mattered little what Calcraft was studying. Bendix had to leave Paris. “You shall find his observations most interesting.”
Bendix, close and impatient, was now in London. By four the next afternoon Bendix had received no answer to his solicitation to Calcraft. With the sun still bright above, he hired a hackney and directed it to Lincoln’s Inn Fields. He had rustled enough gold from the generous LeMaître to ensure a worthy appearance. Indeed, all his money was invested in appearance. A dozen fine suits, each a silken key that might open the doors where the shabby were restrained by servants. They passed down Great Queen’s Street, Bendix admiring the regularity of the façades of fine red brick and heavy wooden eaves. Lincoln’s Inn Fields was an extension of this perfection, broken by the odd arabesque fancy. The door to Dr. Calcraft’s house was black and freshly painted. Bendix rapped upon it with his knuckles, then quickly examined his sober dress of dark silks. His frock coat remained clean despite the dirt of the hackney. The silver buckles of his shoes gleamed. There was no answer at the door. He rapped again, then attempted to peer into the windows. They were drawn and curtained. Scratching at the skin beneath his peruke, Bendix walked along until he found the mews, then doubled to the back of the house. It seemed dark. Once more he returned to the front and knocked for a third time. The door was opened by a short man who bowed briefly before Bendix. He was at least as wide about the waist as he was tall, with round, ruddy cheeks that obscured his eyes. Bendix feared he might pop. “If you would tell Dr. Calcraft that Joseph Bendix calls upon him.” The spherical servant raised a hand to his face and masked a smile. Bendix noted his extraordinary fingers, fine and tapered like a starfish, and realized at once his mistake. “Dr. Calcraft?”
“Or else a very presumptuous footman,” said the doctor and offered Bendix his starred hand.
“I apologize for my . . .”
“Understandable, quite understandable.” Finally he released Bendix’s hand.
“Come in, sir. ’Tis uncommon warm today, and there are fevers about. If you should catch one, I would charge you for your visit.” Calcraft let Bendix pass before him, studying his face. Bendix imagined how he would be judged. The curls of his French wig, his angled nose, dark eyes. His deportment, he hoped, brimmed with confidence, a necessary trace of arrogance on an otherwise kindly face. Bendix entered a long hallway of burnished oak...
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Book Description Villard, 2001. Condition: New. First American Edition. BRAND NEW. Seller Inventory # GRP74108444
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