cover image Skullduggery


Kathleen Karr. Hyperion Books, $15.99 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-7868-0506-8

Karr's (The Great Turkey Walk; Man of the Family) comical, fast-paced novel reveals the seedy practices of 19th-century scientists. After his family falls victim to cholera, orphaned 12-year-old Matthew Morrissey survives on the streets of New York in 1839, until he reads about a position as assistant to Dr. ABC (Asa B. Cornwall). The shabby but flamboyant doctor is an expert in phrenology, ""the scientific study of the mind through the surface of the skull."" Matthew soon learns that his job entails not only impressing the wealthy clients who come in for character analyses but also robbing graves of famous heads. Matthew's literal hunger as well as his thirst for education outweighs his ethical reservations, and he quickly demonstrates his ingenuity in building and organizing the doctor's practice. The doctor's ambitious research and the duo's flight from a terrifying and mysterious body snatcher take them along the East Coast and across the Atlantic. Liberally packed with references to and witty details about important works, leaders (a final pursuit involves exhuming Napoleon's body from St. Helena for its transport back to Paris) and philosophies (e.g., Voltaire's famous ""Liberty, Equality, Fraternity""), Karr's latest is part history lesson and all entertainment. Ages 10-up. (Mar.)