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Digging in the Dark (Paperback)

A History of the Yorkshire Resurrectionists

True Crime Social History

By Ben Johnson
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 139
ISBN: 9781473878174
Published: 5th June 2017


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Progress can be unstoppable at times, and not even death can prevent the desire for knowledge. A dark trade has long existed to provide fuel for the fires of research, a trade which is viewed by many as the most despicable occupation of all.

The resurrection men of Yorkshire came from all walks of life, and employed a myriad of macabre methods to raise their defenceless prey from beneath the consecrated ground. This was a trade which offered great reward, but was definitely not for the faint of heart.

Throughout this journey into the dark past of Yorkshire, we meet an infamous celebrity who made an unexpected reappearance, a travelling minstrel who was to become the talk of many towns, a child whose death was just the beginning of a tragic tale, and a holy man who helped a community but earned his own illicit rewards in return.

Also to be raised from the dead are a number of explosive events, all of which lit a fire beneath the local communities and led the people of Yorkshire to the streets in violent protest. A medical school reduced to ashes, a gang of professionals moonlighting in the darkest occupation, and a scandal which would engulf a city many years after the threat of the body snatchers had been all but ended.

Spanning over almost three centuries, this grim compendium of tales casts a shadow over the beauty of Yorkshire, a dark veil which reaches out in all directions, threatening the peace of the dearly departed across the length and breadth of the nations largest county.

As featured on...

Clouded in Mystery - The History of Body Snatching

I think this is a great book for anybody interested in off beat history in Yorkshire, or anywhere in the UK really! Lots of tales and history on the 'sack em up men'.
You may have heard of Burke and Hare - but the issue of grave robbing for medical research was widespread throughout the land. (Liverpool had it's own instances too!) A great crime related book.

Infamous Liverpool, Caroline Bunford

Digging in the Dark is a short read, and an interesting one. Burke and Hare might be the most (in)famous resurrectionists, but they weren’t the only ones. If you’re into this type of thing, give it a read.

Click here to read the full review

NetGalley, reviewed by Drew Martin

This is a fascinating compendium containing many rich tales of grave robbers and their victims (including children) that comes with first-hand accountings by newspapers and journals dated from the time of the robbing. If you enjoy a good macabre story and like it even better if it’s true, then this novel is for you!

NetGalley, reviewed by Janet Waltz

This book was very different but well worth your time reading it.

NetGalley, reviewed by Lisabeth Racine

Johnson provides background before moving into full, detailed history of various resurrection men. This overview also includes those who met have cheated death, including a piper who could not be hung but who was buried anyway. That’s all I am going to say about that, and if you want to know about that story (and you should), read the book.

Johnson’s discussion includes the most famous Resurrection Burke and Hare, but the majority of the book is centred on Yorkshire and less known cases, including ones involving children’s bodies. The trials are discussed in details, including actual reporting and transcripts from the time. While at times, this can be a bit slow considering the style of whichever source he cites. Yet, what comes across quite clearly, is the fascination and interest that Johnson has for his subject matter. His interest in the subject more than compensates for various slow points in quoted material (and he gets credit for quoting the sources).

I do hope that Johnson delivers a talk about this subject in the US because I sense that he would be fun to listen too.

NetGalley, reviewed by Christine Ethier

About Ben Johnson

Ben Johnson is a freelance writer, columnist and sub-editor. He currently writes for two true crime magazines, and has a first class Honours degree in Journalism from Sheffield Hallam University. It was while studying court reporting that he found his love for the dark subject of true crime, and since these days of sitting at cold, silent press benches, has been a prolific writer, with articles being published on both sides of the Atlantic.

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