Wallace and whisky

Wallace and whisky

Jefferson Chase turns his attentions to Scottish grown authors.

Whisky & Culture | 07 Dec 2007 | By Jefferson Chase

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For the next few columns, I thought we’d have a wee look at the genre of “tartan noir.” Scottish crime fiction comes in a variety of hues and shades. Christopher Wallace’s mesmerizingly creepy 1999 novel The Resurrection Club is more noir than tartan.Part detective story, part Gothic horror trip and part historical novel, Resurrection contains multiple plot lines and is set in both 19th- and 20th-century Edinburgh. The book begins with a PR executive, Charles Kidd, meeting a client who wants him to promote an unspecified performance-art event. They meet in an unusual location: Pershall Cemetary. A large white marble stone towering above the other memorials, resting in the centre of a grassy mound. One of the first things Peter Dexter had taken me to see on this tour of Edinburgh – part of my initial briefing on the requirements of his account. We had been going over an hour and I was yet to hear a mention of the gallery or the cultural programmes that would seduce the corporate sponsors. Rain. A dreech April morning, a spring day to gladden only a true Calvinist’s heart.Before long the story flashes back to 1829, the tail-end of the Scottish Enlightenment, and a grisly historical fact – the practice of graverobbing to supply the city’s growing number of more-or-less reputable anatomists.19th-century anatomy lectures were as much public horror shows as scientific demonstrations, and one pair of infamous ruffians, Burke and Hare, went down in history for creating their own corpses when no fresh ones were available in the city’s kirkyards.Wallace spins this bit of history a bit further in the form of Dr. Alexander Brodie, an ambitious and unscrupulous anatomist being on going his rival scientists one better.Brodie’s aspiration was seen to move from merely understanding the workings of God’s creation to proving its perfection. He was no longer satisfied with extracting the body’s standard organs, hacking out heart, lungs and liver for his class to identify. Now he wanted to find for himself the most elusive organ of all. To some Brodie spoke of a place in history beckoning him. He whispered about an invention which would transform the operating theatre, medicine and even life itself. He announced to chosen students that he would be the first doctor to surgically isolate the soul.And for that, Brodie – who is patterned on the historical Dr. James Knox, Burke and Hare’s primary customer – needs to operate on live subjects. Back in present, Peter Dexter’s performance-art piece has turned out to be a lot more radical than anything Kidd had bargained for. Sponsors are demanding their money back, which Kidd no longer has, and he’s left in a bar called Mather’s, pondering his options.Mather’s was open until four in the morning during the festival. That allowed for a lot of whisky indeed, though not enough to numb the fear and self-loathing that gripped me like a cheese wire g-string…I swallowed hard…For once I would surprise myself. I was going back. I would overwhelm them all.Kidd returns to the cemetery, and the novel’s two plotlines gruesomely converge.Wallace’s plot jumps around a lot, but that’s all part of the fun.He’s equally adept at the historical and the modern idioms.And to boot, he’s come up with one of the most surreal surprise endings I’ve read since Jim Thompson’s The Getaway.So if you, like me, are a fan of both things Scottish and things that go bump in the night, you’ll find The Resurrection Club to be well worth digging up.
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