on 30 April 2010
Set in 1857 and seen through the eyes of surgeon Dr George Phillips, The Secrets of the Lazarus Club has to be one of the most gripping books I've read in a long while. It opens with a fantastically gruesome attempt by a waterman to retrieve a mutilated female corpse from the Thames, one of many prostitutes to be found with the same horrific wounds. Those of a delicate constitution may falter at the prologue, so good is Pollard's descriptive of the filthy river and festering body.
Phillips finds himself in the company of the great engineer Brunel, who, having almost completed his ship, the Great Eastern, is inquisitive to learn more about the inner workings of the human machine, and Phillips is just the man to assist him. He is also just the man whom the police suspect is behind these mutilated bodies.
And so, Brunel issues the doctor with an invite to the Lazarus Club, a secret gathering of the most forward-thinking men of the age. In come Darwin, Russell, Bazalgette, Brodie, Babbage and the fantastically mysterious Ockham, all keen to share their own discoveries and learn of others. Soon Phillips realises that not all of the secrets of the Lazarus Club are in the pursuit of honest achievements, and he finds himself in the middle of a very murky plot. The story has many twists as Phillips attempts to clear his own name and put right a broken promise.
Florence Nightingale has been beautifully written into the story, she is feisty and strong, but still retaining a brilliant wit and an ability to sense the danger that Phillips is in. Her infamous lamp is put to a macabre use in the novel too!
Phillips' character is intriguing, the decisions he makes are not always the ones you are expecting. You get a great sense of atmosphere in the story; the streets, the smells, the hugeness of Brunel's ship and the engineering achievements both big and small! There were moments that made me laugh and moments that made me reel #brace yourself when you get to the old mill# but the real joy is in how Pollard has managed to weave into his great novel so many historical figures and still retain believability and excitement on this level. This is his first novel, and I for one can't wait for his second.
on 29 November 2010
If ever you're in need of a good book to while away an afternoon in front of the fire, this could well be it. The story twists and turns taking you on a journey though Victorian London and beyond whilst you get to know the very likeable main character, Dr George Philips. He rubs shoulders with some of the greatest men and women of the age and fits in credibly with the elite members of the Lazarus Club. From mutilated corpses to Victorian style 007 boat chases, this book has it all. It keeps you guessing right to the end as to `whodunnit' and throws up surprises all the way.
A feisty Florence Nightingale adds a memorable female presence to the story and a hint of romance in an otherwise dark and brooding situation. For anyone with a penchant for gruesome murder, clever plots and fast action-hero paced stories, this will certainly do the job.
Wow what an interesting book and "rip-roaring adventure". It's a book I read about a while back but when I went to buy it, it was out of print. A new edition (with the new title) was published last August so I snapped it up. As it happens I have since come across the audio book so it was the audio that I ended up listening to and the narrator did a cracking job. It was funny though as he voiced one of his characters exactly like Harry H Corbett from Steptoe and Son, which made me laugh. There are all kinds of real people in this book as well as fictional characters - Darwin, Faraday, Babbage, Brunel and other members of "the club" but also Florence Nightingale, and there are lots of well known phrases used in this book but as if for the first time or quite literally, "ship shape and Bristol fashion", "Ockham's Razor", "the shirt off his back", etc. No one is quite what they seem, the bad guys are not always the bad guys and the plot has many twists and turns before the end. I liked George Philips the doctor, but I also liked Ockham quite a lot, he was a very interesting character indeed! There's a nice blend of fact and fiction in this book which I enjoyed very much. 4.5 stars
Book reviewed 24 Feb 2010
on 8 October 2009
A well-researched, compelling read. Historical fiction with a glossy, modern-crime-genre feel. Both enlightening and entertaining, Lazarus Club immerses the reader in the milieu of gritty industrial Britain with cameos by some of the era's most fascinating and eccentric personalities. In addition to the copious background research and atmospheric scene-setting, one of the novel's strengths is the flawed protagonist. Phillips is all the more likeable for his sometimes questionable actions. He is no ideal fictional hero, but rather an identifiable, thoroughly human character fumbling his way through the increasingly strange and frantic events into which he is drawn. I purchased this book after seeing overwhelmingly positive (4*) reviews on Amazon... not sure where these have gone? I highly recommend this book for history lovers and fiction junkies alike.
on 10 August 2012
I don't usually read crime or science fiction, though I do have a weakness for historical fiction, which is why I was drawn to 'Secrets of the Lazarus Club'. Set in the mid-nineteenth century, it is a wonderfully Dickensian evocation of a murky,sinister London of gaslight, mutilated bodies and anatomy theatres. The story weaves around real people and events. There is a very gruesome scene at the start,but happily nothing else is as stomach-churning. The main protagonist, a young surgeon, is plunged into the mystery of corpses washing up in the river, and at the same time is drawn into the secret circle of a group of very eminent Victorians. I enjoyed the innovative use of real characters whose important inventions and ideas have shaped the world as we know it today. The author has clearly researched thoroughly, and modern-sounding colloquial expressions, on investigation, turn out to come from that period, if not even earlier. I might just take issue, all the same, with the likelihood of a woman such as Florence Nightingale saying, "I may be just a woman but....". Only a man would put those words in her mouth. Indeed Florence was known to refer to herself as, "a man of action". But that little quibble aside, this was a thoroughly good yarn, the multi-layered plot twisting and turning to sustain momentum and suspense, and making for a very engrossing read. I'll be looking out for his next novel.
on 4 December 2012
A fine example of how, with a remarkable imagination and untold hours of research, storytelling can be expertly sewn into historical fact to create a tale so compelling that no seams are visible.
Pollard draws us into the many worlds of Victorian London - from the seemingly ordered society of wealthy gentlemen to the gritty underworld of hired killers - through an all-star cast of the greatest minds of the time. These familiar names from history books become fully formed characters, whose motives, actions and roles in this gripping thriller are rendered utterly believable.
Horror scenes that evoke the best kind of Hammer film, and epic Bond-style chase sequences are combined with enough personal detail and hints of romance to satisfy all types of readers. (There's even a bit of bodice ripping, though perhaps not in the way one might expect...)
Along the way we glimpse the impact of the enormous changes that took place during this century, and learn the back-stories of some of the most important inventions of the era. Perhaps the greatest skill lies in the fact that it's often impossible to tell the fact from the fiction.
on 12 April 2011
Brilliant - Utterly Brilliant. I love history, real-life events, science and technology, health issues and mystery so this book ticks all the boxes. Characters are described in such detail, that their inclusion was obviously researched and planned to the last top hat. The story romps along, gathering pace with just enough red herrings to keep the reader on their toes and hooked but not confused. A fabulously entertaining story is wound around historical fact showing creativity and innovative imagination. Loved all the medical/surgical/cadaver health issues and I thought the inclusion of Florence was masterful - it was like several stories in one. Brunel was larger than life and I was not disappointed in his portrayel as can happen when well known historical figures are used - he came across as quircky, clever and cunning - the perfect dinner guest! Can't wait until the next book is finished.
on 30 March 2011
I have read a lot of excellent reviews about this book and was not disappointed and will definitely be recommending it to friends! This novel is beautifully written, a fantastic read. As well as Victorian London, the historical figures are interesting and exciting and come to life throughout this gripping story. An intelligent and insightful plot that could well have happened in this era. It is certainly a page turner. Looking forward to the next book.
on 27 July 2013
I absolutely adored this novel. Excellently written, exciting, twisting plot and very believable characters. As a 3rd year history honours student I find historical novels particularly interesting. Also, Dr Tony Pollard is at the university of Glasgow, where I study so was thrilled to find out he had written a book. Definitely recommend.
on 17 January 2011
Victorian London in the 1850s: an age of conflicting explanations and theories, an age of paradox, of scientific and economic confidence and of social and spiritual pessimism, and an age of a sharpened awareness of the inevitability of progress. The Secrets of the Lazarus Club is set in a time when history was being made by some of the greatest minds the world had ever seen. The reader is at once taken onto a highly dangerous and breathtaking journey together with its main hero, Dr Phillips, one of the finest surgeons in London of that time. Like Phillips, you simply don't know if you will survive!
The author of the book, an internationally renowned archaeologist, gives us with his impressive powers of observation, his wonderful way with language, his extraordinary sense of humour and wit, and with his expert knowledge of London of the 1850s an exciting thriller that is at the same time a tribute to great historical figures and their achievements: Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Charles Babbage, Joseph Bazalgette, Charles Darwin, and Florence Nightingale. The Secrets of the Lazarus Club is a fine and mysterious novel in which reality is intertwined with fiction and the supernatural in a brilliant way so that one can hardly tell where the boundaries are. It takes some time to find out what the main plot is since the story is multi-layered, and the interrelation between sub-plots and the main plot remains a huge secret until almost the last chapter. Each of the story threads is equally good in suspense and excitement. The reader is constantly confronted with the question: What have Dr Phillips's dissections in the operation theatre to do with the discovery of dead female bodies cut open and organs removed, grave robbery, London's early sewage system, the secret meetings of the Lazarus Club, Brunel's gigantic ship the Great Eastern, Brunel's devotion to all things mechanical and his all of a sudden huge interest in the human heart? Great things await.
Naturally, a story like this, in which the human heart as an object of medical and technical research is of such considerable importance, can surely not work without the other side of it, namely emotions, affection and love. Dr Phillips's encounter with the nurse Florence Nightingale is a kind of subtle and secret romance, and this is just, as one expects of such an intellectual story, duly woven into it. Between Dr Phillips and Florence Nightingale, a very special friendship develops - slowly, softly, carefully and dear. But Phillips is a man with a sailor soul, incapable of anchoring his heart in one woman, because his plans for his future are great. So are Miss Nightingale's. Moreover, Dr Phillips is a very complex and difficult character. On the one hand he is an excellent surgeon, an expert in his field. On the other hand, as far as emotions are concerned, he is rather immature and prefers not to take responsibility. He is someone who will long for a fulfilled relationship his whole life, but he is not willing to take the right steps for it. He'd rather spend his lonely evenings and nights with Clare, a beautiful prostitute. And then there are his nightmares... However, beside its high entertainment value, the deeper meaning of the book appeals to our conscience: the human mind has always been capable of great inventions but we pay the price for progress and prosperity. What often starts as a mere and innocent scientific or technological experiment has fatal consequences for mankind if it is misused by people who solely strive for power and fame. This really is splendid stuff! A gripping thriller which deserves a place amongst the best books that 21st century British writing has to offer thus far. Tony Pollard is a very promising author who will without any doubt nourish the embryonic writing of the twenty-first century!