REVIEW: Dark Economy by M. Keedwell
Love can’t stay buried.
Medical student Cadell Meredith has been known to acquire “volunteers” from the occasional pauper’s grave in order to improve his surgical skills. While the legality of this practice is a bit murky, he wouldn’t go so far as to call it out and out robbery.
His latest acquisition, however, is different. The body on his table was obviously healthy, wealthy—and murdered. Cadell feels compelled to seek justice for the dead man, but while dissection comes naturally to him, crime investigation is unfamiliar territory.
Furthermore, he’s caught the attention of one of those new police officers, Blaine Breton. A handsome, sentimental fool who insists Cadell is a criminal. A criminal! Cadell is the first to admit he’s no saint, but he’s no killer.
A marvelous game of cat and mouse ensues as Cadell seeks to expose the truth while hiding his own secrets. A task that grows ever more difficult as his desire for Breton grows…and the danger deepens.
Warning: This story contains mystery, mayhem, and a male romance that starts off in the most delicious way possible—mutual hostility. Enjoy!
Dear M. Keedwell,
Your book surprised me in the most wonderful way. A friend suggested it to me when I was whining about how much I miss reading good m/m historical romances. It was not a recommendation; she had just seen that the book would be out soon. I preordered it on a complete whim and I am so glad I did.
I won’t deny that I was a little nervous when I started the book. More often than not (unless the story is humorous) when I see a policeman and a suspect being the stars of the story, my eye starts twitching because I cannot stand it when a policeman forgets about his work, the criminal forgets all his wits, and the love affair begins right away. Resolve the case and then get together, or quit your job, or just don’t be stupid. That’s how I look at it usually, but of course there are exceptions to any rule and good writing can convince me of almost anything.
I had of course heard before about medical students in the past trying to acquire bodies by illegal means, usually so they could learn human anatomy better and be better doctors, and here Cadell does it specifically because he wants to be a better surgeon. The action starts in 1829 in London and I suspect the date is not coincidental, because three years later, as Wikipedia told me, “The anatomy act” was enacted to give the medical profession more freedom to use donated bodies for dissection.
But in 1829, Cadell, who is one of the best and most brilliant students in his class, and who volunteers in his spare time as an assistant surgeon to help poor patients, is indeed robbing graves. An acquaintance tells him that someone new has just died in the workhouse – somebody without a family who might be looking for him. During the course of his expedition to the cemetery he almost gets caught by the police constable, and that constable becomes a frequent presence in his life, trying at first to catch him in the act, then to get to know him better and then, you know.
Breton is relentless. He finds reasons to search Cadell’s apartment, he checks out his place of his work, but he cannot find anything, even if he is sure that Cadell is guilty. Pretty soon the men come to verbal blows:
“There are those of us living who have had our loved ones murdered…”
Breton winced and his voice broke off. Cadell jumped into the breach. “I would never stoop to murder!”
“But you’re involved, aren’t you? The lot of you are. Hypocritical surgeons with their Hippocratic oath, winking at murdered corpses being let through with no questions asked, and you…”
Cadell’s throat tightened as Breton stalked over. He backed away with every forward step until his back hit the cardboard and Breton’s outstretched arms trapped him.
“How can you? Stealing bodies and mutilating them, with no thought or respect for the feelings of those who loved them.”
“Oh God what sentimental drivel,” Cadell snapped. He eyed Breton’s lips near his and looked away. “Those used are criminals, or those without family to mourn them. It’s not ideal, but what other choice is there?” He heaved an exasperated sigh as Breton’s eyes narrowed. “Oh, you’re all so indignant and moral over it, until it’s your turn to face a surgeon whose only practical experience is cutting up papier-mache! There are not enough bodies provided from hanging victims to produce competent surgeons with adequate experience.”
“That’s the law.”
“The laws are wrong!”
I really liked that for the conflict between them the author chose an issue which may have not been within the law, but I was still fully on Cadell’s side.
Cadell may be snarky and claim that he does not like people, but when he starts to think about the people whom he considers friends, it turns out that he does love and care for them, even if there are only a few in that category. But like people or not, he still wants to help society by being a competent doctor who knows what he is doing.
And Breton learns that Cadell is not that bad of a person either.
“I’m so glad I could entertain you,” he finally said. “I do it all for applause.”
“Not according to the hospital porter,” Breton replied. “ I have just been subjected to the most nauseating account of you, regularly giving up your time to minister to the indigent of London for free.”
Cadell’s eyes widened. Could that be… respect? Reluctantly given, disbelieving, but …respect? He could feel his face turn red. “Don’t paint me up all pretty,” he retorted, “I do it for the practice.” Then realization dawned. “You were trying to scrape something damning about me from him, weren’t you?”
The devious bastard. “Take some cyanide,” he snapped. “For the nausea. It’ll work wonders, and make me feel a whole lot better.” He stormed his way down to the road, Breton’s low chuckle trailing behind him.”
I thought the author did several clever things with the plot and characterization here, which made me very happy. No, the characters do not sleep together while they are on different sides of the law so to speak, in fact they do not even kiss until the last part of the last chapter and there is only one, not very explicit, sex scene between them. Cadell does have one more sex scene with one of his acquaintances though. So, if you are looking for erotic romance, you won’t find it in this book, although in my opinion there is plenty of sexual tension when they are on page together. I went and read some Goodreads reviews and they state that the book is mostly mystery. I don’t know if I agree. I mean, it *is* mostly focused on solving a mystery, which Cadell investigates with the help of some of his friends. Breton is not involved in *this* investigation, which Cadell took upon himself, until the very end. However, because Bretton is trying to prove that Cadell Meredith is robbing graves during ninety percent of the narrative, I always felt his presence in the background, even when he was not on page. And when he was, I thought the tension between the two men was very real and explosive. I thought it was smart to give them opposite views about certain actions that were considered criminal while still making them both likeable in my eyes.
But what about the mystery that Cadell was investigating? As the blurb states, he became suspicious about the body of the man he found during the trip to the cemetery when Bretton almost caught him, and he decided that he owed the dead guy something – justice of some sort. I was not sure initially why Cadell decides to get involved (unless he was significantly more conflicted about grave robbing than he claimed – good moral purpose and all) but once he is involved he is all in. In fact, he realizes that solving this murder has become his obsession. Acting as an amateur sleuth, Cadell does not really care about the legalities of some things either. He starts his sleuthing career by stealing Bretton’s constable’s coat in order to pretend to be a policeman when he asks questions about the murder, for example. The investigation was satisfyingly complex, with Cadell showing both his best qualities (really sharp mind) and worst ones (thinking he knew best and getting into some really dangerous situations). I liked how we were shown that he caught on to one of the villains almost from the very beginning, but he had to uncover his motivations, and the real culprits were not revealed till almost the very end.
At the same time, when the mystery was solved, I was bothered by something which I could not quite put my finger on. Perhaps the lack of deep impact on the hero? I mean he talks about what this investigation did to him, how understanding the victim brought him back to living, made him care about new friends, but I guess I did not see that it was such a change? I thought he was a deeply caring person from the very beginning, even if he was willing to do illegal stuff to help people, and what he said did not really feel like a revelation.
I had no issues with resolution of romantic storyline, though.