Review

The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein

by Peter Ackroyd

What if Victor Frankenstein, self-professed scientist, were to
meet Percy Bysshe Shelley, romantic poet and a man who married the
author of FRANKENSTEIN? It would most likely go something like the
story told in Peter Ackroyd’s THE CASEBOOK OF VICTOR
FRANKENSTEIN.

According to Ackroyd, Victor and Shelley begin their friendship
after they are engaged in a rousing discussion at Oxford where the
two attend university. As the book begins, Victor is nourishing an
avid desire to create life while Shelley is already spouting verse
and breaking college rules. This refusal to follow the academic
regimen earns Shelley an expulsion from Oxford. In a sanguine mood,
he makes plans to move to London, begging Victor to join him, as he
has grown quite fond of his company.

The city proves to be a much better environment for Victor to
continue his “studies.” But before he can fully flesh
out his theories, he receives word that his beloved sister,
Elizabeth, is deathly ill. He rushes home, but she lives only a
short time after he arrives, his father shortly following her to
the grave. Victor is bereft. And what begins as a burning curiosity
for him now turns to madness. Returning to London, he launches
himself into his obsession with renewed fervor, an obsession that
feeds both his lust for knowledge and his fierce spiritual
side:

“By restoring human life I was about to begin an
enterprise that might change human consciousness itself! I was
determined to prove that nature can be a moral force, an agent for
good and for benevolent change. To bring life out of death --- to
restore the lost spirits and functions of the human frame --- what
could be more beneficent? It remained for me now to procure the
subjects.”

But corpses are not particularly difficult to find, although
ones in good shape are quite rare. And that’s where the
Doomsday Men come in. Known as “resurrectionists” ---
common grave robbers or body snatchers --- their job is to find
specimens for Victor’s experiments. Victor has a list of
particulars that the bodies have to meet; if he is going to bring
them back to life, they cannot be decapitated, severely damaged, or
missing major body parts. The Doomsday Men bring him a steady
stream, and Victor wisely avoids asking questions about the source
of the supply. Finally, he finds the perfect candidate (and
everyone knows this part): Victor hooks this body up and
dramatically channels lightning through it to regenerate life. And
what is missing from Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN, the exact
details of the resurrection, are richly chronicled in this
journal.

But all is not well after he gives the creature life. As Victor
will tell the reader, the creature, for reasons you will come to
understand, begins to stalk him wherever he goes. People around
Victor claim to have seen a malevolent fiend, or a lake monster, a
visage of hideous proportions. But how is Victor to separate what
is truth and what is fiction, especially with his life hanging in
the balance?

Peter Ackroyd has taken two unconventional personalities and
brought them together, and the results are explosive. Percy Bysshe
Shelley pulses with vitality and idealism and creation, pushing
Victor Frankenstein toward his own fate --- and a monster is
unleashed. But who is the real villain of the piece? And is Victor
a scientist or a madman? You decide.

Reviewed by Kate Ayers on December 26, 2010

The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein
by Peter Ackroyd

  • Publication Date: September 7, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor
  • ISBN-10: 0307473775
  • ISBN-13: 9780307473776