The Anatomist’s Apprentice by Tessa Harris

June 30, 2012

Plot summary (from the publisher):In the first in a stunning new mystery series set in eighteenth-century England, Tessa Harris introduces Dr. Thomas Silkstone, anatomist and pioneering forensic detective…

The death of Sir Edward Crick has unleashed a torrent of gossip through the seedy taverns and elegant ballrooms of Oxfordshire. Few mourn the dissolute young man—except his sister, the beautiful Lady Lydia Farrell. When her husband comes under suspicion of murder, she seeks expert help from Dr. Thomas Silkstone, a young anatomist from Philadelphia.

Thomas arrived in England to study under its foremost surgeon, where his unconventional methods only add to his outsider status. Against his better judgment he agrees to examine Sir Edward’s corpse. But it is not only the dead, but also the living, to whom he must apply the keen blade of his intellect. And the deeper the doctor’s investigations go, the greater the risk that he will be consigned to the ranks of the corpses he studies…

Warning: Spoilers below!


  • I liked the parts that had to do with actual forensics, such as when Dr. Silkstone noticed that his ink had separated into different colors and figured out that the poisoned elixir might do the same.
  • Ditto for the scenes about dissection and autopsy. It was interesting to see the kinds of problems doctors in the 18th century had to deal with and how they tried to overcome the limitations of their medical and scientific knowledge.


  • Despite this being a “period piece”, I didn’t think the author did a great job of establishing a sense of time or place. The only reason I knew this was supposed to have been set a couple hundred years ago is that Dr. Silkstone’s forensic capabilities were so rudimentary. Otherwise, there were no other touches in language or description that really cemented this story to a certain time period.
  • For a book that is purportedly about the early days of forensics, there was actually very little going on in that direction. Readers get a few short scenes at the most — and the murder ended up being solved by chance rather than by science or reasoning.
  • Dr. Silkstone was an incredibly boring protagonist with whom I failed to connect in any way. I cannot imagine a whole series being based around this milquetoast character, but I do know I won’t be reading anything more about him!
  • As soon as the sister was introduced, it was apparent that she and Dr. Silkstone were meant to end up together. Since her husband wasn’t the murderer, the author had to go and make him a physically abusive lout so readers would applaud the eventual Silkstone/Lydia hookup. Ugh, so cliche and dull.
  • I had all but tuned out by the end, as I got tired of trying to follow the mostly ridiculous twists and turns the author threw out there so I might be wrong about this. But…was Sir Edward murdered by his mother? Is that how this book turned out? I know Lydia’s mother was just faking her senility and all that, but did she kill Edward? Or did she kill Lydia’s husband? (Or perhaps both men?) If so, I missed the reason. Perhaps because Edward was terminally ill or something? Gah, I finished this book more than a month ago and have already forgotten the details. If anyone can enlighten me about the ending, I would really appreciate it!


The Anatomist’s Apprentice by Tessa Harris felt like a case of false advertising to me. It promised to be a book about the early days of forensics, but actually had more elements of romance than mystery and had very little to offer in the way of primitive CSI-like procedures. To top it all off, I didn’t care one bit about the characters and the story itself was boring. This one didn’t hold my attention at all. I give it 2 stars out of 5.

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