Dr. Thomas Silkstone and his betrothed, Lady Lydia Farrell, are more or less patiently waiting out the time until they can, with a minimum of fuss and scandal, announce their engagement. In the meantime, a friend of Lydia's father, a Polish count, Boruwlaski, who has made a handsome living off of the fact that he is a dwarf, arrives to inform her that an Irish giant is being cruelly exploited in a fair that's taking place on the edge of her property. He and Lady Lydia extract the giant, Charles Byrne, from the clutches of his current employer, and Lydia sends for Thomas to come from London to examine the man before the count leads him off to exhibit himself to far more lucrative audiences in more comfortable surroundings.
Soon they are all in London, and Charles Byrne, with Count Boruwlaski's help, is making much better money exhibiting himself to the nobility and gentry, while eating good meals and sleeping in a warm bed in the Count's household.
Unfortunately, he's also attracting exactly the interest he most wants to avoid: that of less savory anatomists than Thomas, anatomists determined to dissect him upon his death whatever his wishes, even if they have to steal his corpse from the grave to do it. These include the Scotsman, Dr. John Hunter, who is a fascinating puzzle. He's utterly ruthless and unprincipled in his efforts to obtain any corpse that interests him--and yet he's seeking real medical advancement, asking critical scientific questions that only a small part of the medical profession are yet ready for.
But there are other oddities in London at the same time, including two Italian castrati, an older man Senor Morello, who has lost his singing voice, and his angelically-voiced protege, Senor Capelli. When Capelli is murdered in his bed, hostility and suspicion of foreigners and of castrati leads to the almost immediate arrest of Morello despite the fact that Dr. Silkstone's post-mortem indicates two killers, neither of whom could have been Morello.
These plot lines of course become intertwined, and Silkstone is sorting through some very confusing and conflicting evidence.
Harris has used real people and events (Byrne, the Count, Dr. Hunter, and the competition to snag Byrne's body for dissection), somewhat condensed to fit into her Dr. Silkstone mysteries. She's made the characters likable and engaging, and the period, the field of anatomy in the late 18th century, and the real characters are meticulously researched.
I will say that at certain points, a strong stomach is required, but even with that, this is an excellent read.
I borrowed this book from the library.