Raise your hand if you think grave robbing is sexy and romantic. No one? Yeah, me neither. But it was definitely a staple of medical students and full-fledged doctors in the 1820s. Somehow, the author of Dark Economy makes both the mystery and the characters shine on their gothic backdrop. I’m not sure how the author did it, but I sincerely hope that we get more. Lots more. Preferably of these characters, because I’m kinda in love.
Cadell Meredith is a medical student, an apothecary worker, and a grave robber. The grave robbing thing is really only to support his medical studies, so it’s okay, right? Well, not really, it’s still illegal, but at least he’s not killing people to sell the bodies. But then as he’s working on one particular corpse, he begins to notice discrepancies – this isn’t some pauper, but a gentleman, possibly a lord even. And it’s fairly obvious that this gentleman has been murdered.
With a sense of guilt, basically haunted by the corpse of the young man, Cadell takes it upon himself to try and discover who exactly he was, as well as who killed him. Unfortunately, he’s also being dogged by a police officer, Breton. Every time Cadell turns around, there Breton is. It’s maddening. And arousing, apparently, since Cadell can’t think of anything else half the time. But he’s got to figure out the murder to assuage his own curiosity and guilty conscience, and do it without Breton catching on to the multiple laws he’s been breaking.
So it starts out a little slow – and it’s absolutely ages before we get to anything resembling romance – but it is definitely not boring. Cadell is trying to negotiate med school, a job, and an illegal night time pursuit, and then adding dodging a particular and persistent officer to the mix? Fascinating. We get to see some of the beginnings of forensic science, and how the laws shaped the study of medicine. We ride along with Cadell as he traverses all rungs of society, from the family of the young lord to the gutter he’s more familiar with. Cadell is of modest means, at best, and Breton isn’t much better off than that.
And oh, the sexual tension! It was actually making me tense as I read it, as the characters were working through their rather drastic differences. And I think what I liked best about it is that the building tensions and romance between the characters didn’t mess up the mystery. Cadell was inspired to work even harder to figure out what he had stumbled upon, especially since Breton seems to be lurking behind every corner.
But what I thought was wonderful is that this novel is a historical mystery where the main characters just happened to be gay. Don’t get me wrong, the attraction between them is definitely a driving point of the plot, but the story is really about the mystery and the murder. We don’t even visit the couple in the bedroom, though there’s sexual tension aplenty. And as for the mystery, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at just how intricate everything turned out to be.
There were a couple of things that didn’t quite work for me, though. For one, every time we turned around, a new character was suddenly gay. It was a bit odd, and while it worked with the mystery to a certain extent, it definitely stood out. Also, while I absolutely love Cadell and Breton, I’m not convinced of their long-term viability as a couple. But they really are just too cute, so I’m hopeful!
Dark Economy is definitely a different version of the increasingly popular M/M historical genre. Approached more as a mystery than a romance, the writing makes me think of more traditional literature, while remaining consistently satisfying. Along with the scandal, the drama, and the rather fascinating characters, I’m definitely interested in reading more.