It is rare that you come across a sequel that is better than the first movie. I know that it has happened, but what never gets mentioned is how rarely it happens in books. To that end I now present the first BOOKS THAT SHOULD BE MOVIES SEQUEL EDITION: James McGee’s Resurrectionist.
Back in jolly old London town there is a trade that is positively booming with the advance of medicine and science. With every new school dedicated to the study of the human body there grows a demand for, well, yes… bodies. Enter the Resurrection Men, competing gangs of the London underground rushing to fill their orders through any means necessary. With their work comes the bribing of officials, church wardens, grave diggers and priests. When they find themselves in need of something very specific? Say a young female no more then twenty-three years old and in the excellent physical shape? A pregnant woman six months in? Hard to come by that is…making corpses costs a little extra.
Into this world we drop Hawkwood, our Bow Street Runner hero from my very first Books That Should Be Movie column Ratcatcher. Hawkwood is over stretched and over worked and his temper is flaring a lot more then someone who confronts evil and darkness should. The old soldier turned lawman is growing weary and for a man as dangerous as the criminals he confronts, this is not a safe state for our runner to be in. On one evening alone he is called to the scene of a murder, a resurrection man found dead. Before he can even begin to investigate this he is called to Bethlehem hospital (Bedlam, land of the criminally insane) to investigate the brutal murder of a prisoner and the disappearance of a priest.
Bedlam offers a cinematographic dream and a terrifying history lesson on how we used to deal with mental illness. It doesn’t take long for Hawkwood to figure out that the priest is actually the deceased and dismembered corpse in the cell and its occupant…Colonel Xavier Titus Hyde, late of her majesty’s royal army and a very very promising surgeon has escaped. Hyde is not your average surgeon. Some say he cracked under the pressures of battle. Some say he was thrown for a loop upon hearing of his daughter’s death. Some have always whispered he was a little too pre-occupied with death. At any rate, he has escaped and from the anatomical drawings, technical schematics and clues he’s left behind, his escape leaves Hawkwood feeling very uneasy.
As Hawkwood investigates Hyde’s background he discovers that the doctor is not your average criminal. He leaves corpses in his wake and he is far more intelligent then anyone Hawkwood has ever dealt with before. Hyde is obsessed with the idea that science and electricity can re-animate flesh and impart life. The doctor began to experiment in things no other surgeon at the time dared consider. He was incarcerated for his own good, his stay at Bedlam signed for by some of the highest ranks of the government. France wants him returned to them as a war criminal. His battlefield labratory where he tried his first experiments on dead french soldiers had been found. Resurrection, in the actal meaning of the term, is not easy to accomplish. It leaves many charred, disfigured corpses.
The flashback sequences you could do in this movie alone would make it worth the price of admission. A battlefield Frankenstein experimenting in a charnel house/barn trying to spark life into the corpses of dead soldiers. A pretty girl, Hyde’s daughter – cut to images of her corpse – cut to image of Hyde stepping out of a shadow, sword drawn, walking up to Hawkwood with murderous intent. It would be all too perfect on the big screen.
Hawkwood is quickly overwhelmed by the mad genius of his quarry and the viciousness of his new underlings: the Resurrection gang he has hired to get him his very specific needs…female bodies, all around the same age, all healthy. A good casting agent could have a field day with the Resurrection Gang. Sawney, a former wagon driver in the army knows of Hawkwood, is ruthless in all ways and the very definition of what people in that era would call “unpleasant.” Maggot, his right hand, is a big lumbering brute that does all the lifting and none of the thinking and provides some of the darker scenes of the novel with a bit of comedy. The most captivating of the villains in this book though remains Little Sal Bridger, a whore. Sawney would like to call her “his” whore but from the very first moment she appears, Sal makes it obvious she belongs to no one but herself. She is the one that lures the females they supply to Colonel Hyde… you know, after she and the gang have had their fun, of course.
Hawkwood recruits help. From the first murder in the book, Hawkwood finds himself working with a young constable named John Hopkins. He is very spirited, very determined and clever. Hawkwood takes an instant liking to him and keeps him by his side. But two against a gang and a mad man? This is why actors try so hard to get involved in franchises. Re-enter Hawkwood’s best friend, Nathaniel Jago. The one time sergeant and now master criminal has grown in influence since we last saw him… his “army” encompasses most of the London underworld now. With Jago’s best at his side, Hawkwood recruits one more piece: Major Lomax, the badly scarred calvary officer that had helped ride down the highwaymen in Ratcatcher signs on quickly for one more glorious battle. And it builds to one of the most natural climaxes I have read in a book in a long time, almost naturally building to one of those big Hollywood endings that audiences so crave.
Whereas Ratcatcher threw Hawkwood into the realm of politics and brightly lit halls and salons this book throws Hawkwood into everything that is black and disgusting and terrible about the time he inhabited…where even noble science struggles to climb out of the muck. The visuals would make this one of those cross genre films that Hollywood has been desperate for for years now…part adventure, part horror, part surreal, part cerebral. You could not leave the theatre without wanting to cheer the good guys, shiver at the thought of the bad guys and want to not close your eyes again for a few days for fear of seeing Hyde’s attempts at Resurrection.
A book that should be a sequel, James McGee Resurrectionist.