Review: ‘Digging in the Dark’, by Ben W. Johnson

I was sent this book by the publisher in return for an honest review.

(My reviews are always honest; I’ll bury alive anyone who slanders me by suggesting otherwise)

Digging in the Dark


Published by: Pen & Sword History

Publication date: 5th June 2017

I.S.B.N.: 9781473878174

Format: Paperback

Price: £12.99


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.

My Review

The Resurrection Men were feared in the eighteenth and nineteenth century; nobody wanted to think that their eternal rest would be disturbed. Medical progress was necessary but the supply – executed murderers – outstripped demand, and the respectable doctors and anatomists were happy to take their dubiously acquired wares.

This book covers the activities of the grave robbers of Yorkshire, who were able to supply corpses to the medical schools of York, Leeds, Sheffield and Edinburgh. Yorkshire’s position along the spine of the north, and the roads to Scotland, where anatomy and medical training were especially developed, and largely rural population, as well as new cities full of migrant workers without local families, made it an ideal place for the Resurrection Men to ply their trade.

The consequences for being caught, even for known repeat offenders – a few weeks or months in prison – didn’t deter people, and the wealthy doctors made it worth the time and effort. The bodies of children seem to have been particularly popular. Collusion between the medical schools, workhouses, religious figures and the grave robbers was often suspected, and the evidence does suggest the rumours weren’t baseless.

This compendium of stories is grotesque and humourous by turns with tales of incompetent grave robbers and grieving parents frantically digging into the graves of their children to check their bodies were still there. The author obviously found the subject fascinating, and it comes through in the writing. The reader gets some flavour of Yorkshire in the 17th to 19th centuries as it was changing and industrialising. Unfortunately, although interesting, the subject isn’t handled with much flair and it feels a bit staid.

Structurally, the book felt a little hodge-podge, as though the author couldn’t decide between a chronological or regional structure. There are some editing errors that need to be fixed. I was sent the final product not an ARC, and it’s published by a professional publishing company; I have less tolerance for errors from them than from self-publishers.

3/5 – Good start but it needs work.







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