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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for all those interested in grave robbers, 13 April 2007
This review is from: The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave-Robbery in 1830s London (Paperback)
What makes this book marvelous is not just the excellent research about the subject matter - which, lets face it, is not one that many people are instinctively drawn to - but the fascinating asides and background detail that gives a truely fascinating insight into the lives of the inner city poor in 1830's London. It is always difficult for one to relate the value of money but juxtaposing taxi fares, price of meat, pints of gin (2d)wages of skilled artisans like carpenters and silk weavers with dead bodies (8-12 guineas although with peaks of around 20 guineas)one gets a picture of why these people did what they did.

The background detail of the new police and their rivalry with the Bow Street Runners; the limited aspirations for the police i.e. not expected to investigate crime or to mix with criminals in order to glean information was all new to me at least.

Similarly, the limitations of jurisprudence were surprising: how limited was the ability of defense lawyers to defend their clients they couldn't speak to the jury; there was no pre-trial disclosure of prosecution evidence; the accused could not take the stand - it was therefore perhaps not surprising that an average high court trial lasted 8 1/2 minutes probably with a very high rates of guilty verdicts - one wonders why the world was taught to look up to British justice, just how bad was it elsewhere? It seems strange that such a distasteful crime as grave robbing was only a misdemeanor whilst relatively low value thefts could be sanction by transportation for life or hanging - Sarah Wise explains that the general premise was based upon ownership (and its loss) - therefore begging the question of who owns a dead body and who has incurred a loss?

The chapter about Smithfields and the animal meat market was equally (and curiously) fascinating - one rarely considers how the food industry worked in those days especially with the dramatic rise in urbanisation that was going on - walking cows from the highlands of Scotland to the London markets - the treatment of animals which were slowly becoming protected whilst humans had perhaps less legal protection.

The demise of grave robbing and 'Burking' as an attractive career choice for criminals came not from raising the penalty nor by criminalising the doctors who created the demand pull (they were gentlemean after all) but by freeing up the supply side - the unclaimed bodies of the workhouse poor were made available (despite fears that the doctors might still try to encourage the flow when they needed more bodies) and the rise of pestulence and plague that meant that there were many more bodies available.

This is a very stimulating book that I would heartedly recommend
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