Luke Lewis is the son of an itinerant preacher in Upper Canada and a recent medical graduate of Montreal’s McGill University. In 1851, he joins the practice of the aging, Edinburgh-trained Dr. Stewart Christie in Thornhill, Ontario. It is a small village a few miles north of Toronto (now the site of some of the most expensive property in Canada).  Christie is tired and leaves Luke alone to work.   

Luke hopes to consolidate his learning and earn enough to set up on his own elsewhere in Ontario, closer to his farming brothers. He rents a couple of rooms from the doctor and is able to accommodate his father Thaddeus Lewis on his occasional visits.   

Morgan Spicer, the custodian of the local Strangers’ Burying Ground, is an old friend of the family. He finds a grave disturbed, which raises the specter of grave-robbing, an all too common crime much abetted by medical schools. But in this case, the corpse is left behind and the grave was not fresh. Morgan is baffled but the police are indifferent. When it happens a second time, Luke and his father try to help solve the mystery. They wonder if Dr. Christie might be behind it. What does he do all day?   

Luke is lonely and he sorely misses his friend and lover, Ben, who died of tuberculosis back in Montreal. Luke has managed to keep his sexual orientation firmly in the closet, knowing it would be the end of his career and of his relationship with his beloved father.   

However, Luke’s gallant actions in rescuing the beautiful African, Cherub, from American slave-traders, result in an unwanted invitation from a somewhat too grateful society lady, Lavinia. Through her, he meets the clever Perry Biddulph and is plunged into a torment of attraction and despair, compounded by the fact that Lavinia’s husband is a scoundrel whom the Lewis’s have met before in the previous novel.   

Luke firmly resolves to avoid both Lavinia and Perry, but she uses his sexual secret to blackmail him into finding the means to leave her husband. Most problems are nicely resolved in the end. To say more would spoil it.  


This novel is a sequel to 47 Sorrows, in which Lavinia’s husband is also the villain. It is well researched and provides a reliable picture of Toronto and of medical practice in the mid-nineteenth century. Most places and some of the characters are “real.”   

The references to anatomical pursuits are also credible and reflect the avid medical preoccupation of the time. The impoverished social conditions of Luke’s patients clearly affect their health, and an outbreak of typhoid preoccupies him in his pre-germ theory world: why do some families get it and others do not?   

Beyond the central mystery, Luke’s homosexuality is perhaps the most intriguing part of this story. It gently evokes the painful dilemma of a young, accomplished person whose natural leanings oppose everything that he has been taught and whose longing to express them could ruin his entire life. He loves his father but makes assumptions about how he would react to revelations about himself and his lack of religious faith. Yet he finds sympathy and support in surprising places, challenging our views of nineteenth century attitudes. In that sense, his conflict and vulnerability replicate the social risks still prevalent today.  



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