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Reviewed by Asher Syed for Readers' Favorite
Joseph C. Gioconda creates an entertaining fictional account of what is not known about the real discovery of human bones buried under Benjamin Franklin's London home in Ben's Bones. Franklin spent almost two decades cumulatively in England, renting rooms from a mother and daughter in London with whom he formed platonic familial relationships, Margaret and Polly Stevenson. In this period of history, scientists studying the human body had difficulty obtaining a steady stream of corpses to dissect and research. Polly's husband William Hewson opens a school and purchases corpses from sellers Wilds and May for anatomy studies, suspecting but unwilling to acknowledge that they cull the bodies by murder. Wilds and May are willing to sell bodies but not remove them once dissected and Hewson concocts a plan to bury them himself, on the grounds of the house that Franklin lives in.
I work within walking distance of the Benjamin Franklin house at 36 Craven Street and it is where I enjoyed my first-ever American Thanksgiving back when they had them at the house. They have since been moved to larger premises because of their popularity. The human and animal bones on display are among the greater curiosities of the museum. So when I saw that Joseph C. Gioconda had written a story about them I was immediately drawn to Ben's Bones. The story has a series of first-person point-of-view characters that smoothly round out the plot and arc, which are as grim as will be expected in a story that encompasses murder, dissection, and body disposal. This discussion is frequent and detailed, such as when Hewson writes, “The specimens’ blood has always been fresh and fluid. This is a critical fact when studying hematology.” These are people murdered for Hewson's coin and he is, at best, an antihero and, at worst, an accomplice to murder. Still, Gioconda's ability to build on the human elements of the living, relationships, social customs, Franklin's time in England, and what was transpiring back in North America, and London during that era are all present and meticulously researched. It's a solid, believable, and well-written story. Very highly recommended.