author note

House of Sight and Shadow graphic

I grew up in London, though I've lived in the States for half my life. I think a friend or two thought I'd picked the topic for an excuse to revel in nostalgia, but House of Sight came out of my own upbringing. I'd been reading a lot of 17 th and 18th century histories, particularly dealing with scientific progress, religion and medicine and it stunned me to realize that the straight line that we've followed since on scientific order, experiment and rationale, was so blurred at the time. Science was an open domain. This is a book in which superstition has roots in empirical evidence and empirical evidence has its roots on the wrong side of the law. For someone like me, who had been raised in a house between two schools of thought, Protestantism and Christian Science, it gave me a chance to examine a middle line between religion, science and medicine and see what similarities I could draw between them. It meant that my two central characters had to be flexible, at least as far as their morals were concerned, but the two competing Doctors are never entirely right or wrong, just hard headed and ultimately incompatible.




In the mews behind Lincoln's Inn Fields stood a pair of bony horses and a beaten cart. Without a word, Sixes mounted it and signalled for Bendix to walk beside. Bendix looked about him. The streets were beginning to empty at the first sign of darkness. Those who remained did not look at them as their sober parade wound east to Moorfields. The cart creaked through unmarked lanes, past the trees that sheltered the booksellers who had disappeared with the sun. Sixes paused to wrap the horses' hooves in sackcloth to silence their tread. Then along the edge of Sodomite's Walk and to the ditches that held suicides six inches under dirt. Bendix let his hand rest on the flank of one of the horses, drawing comfort from the snorting beast. Heavy-bellied clouds were gathering. They grew thicker and thicker until the moon was replaced by the mute promise of rain. Bendix could barely see the figure of Sixes above him. Now he kept his hand upon the horse for guidance.

When, finally, the horses slowed and stopped, Bendix stepped back towards Sixes as he descended from his seat. They walked to the rear of the cart, where Sixes raised a cloth and handed Bendix two wooden shovels, more laborious than metal but much quieter. Draping the cloth over his shoulder, Sixes turned and walked into blackness. Bendix followed so close as to clip his heels. Sixes paused and handed him one end of a short rope.

'Will the horses be stolen?' whispered Bendix to break the darkness.

'Can you see them?' asked Sixes and tugged him forwards without waiting for an answer.

While Sixes adjusted his pace, Bendix could not prevent himself from a constant stumbling, accompanied by the steady beat of oaths. He did not know how long they walked, perhaps ten minutes, perhaps half an hour. He believed that they had passed through two gates, crossed one slatted bridge, inhaled a powerful fetor of decomposing flesh, then briefly risen on a slight slope.

Bendix was stopped by Sixes's flattened palm against his chest. A second hand touched him lightly on the mouth, indicating silence. Ahead was the faint sound of voices. Bendix tried to hush his breathing, but it seemed so loud to him that he could not determine a single word that came from ahead. He felt the touch of Sixes's lips against his ear.

'We wait.'

Bendix nodded. He was in another man's country and could do little but acquiesce. They held their vigil for an hour of blackness, Sixes so still and quiet that twice Bendix had to reach out to confirm his presence. Finally the faint voices dissipated. There seemed to be nothing about them.

'Do we move?' whispered Bendix.

'We wait on the moon.'

'And should it not come?'

But it did, and to their eyes, so accustomed to darkness, the weak light was enough to illuminate their immediate environs. Bendix could see the different line of night that was Sixes's shadow. He followed it until he heard the soft sound of the spade cut the earth, then joined Sixes in their endeavour.

The body was not buried deep, but the night was so warm that their efforts forced a heavy sweat on Bendix that revived the odours of his clothes. He could also smell wet soil, perhaps a trace of urine about the coffin. It was a roughly constructed box, a gesture of the poor. Sixes stood atop it and prized the board from its head with his crowbar.

'Come now,' he said. Bendix followed him down and together they tore the lid away.

Even in the dark Bendix could see the marks that burned the dead man's unbroken neck. A slim strip of dressing had been wrapped around his eyes to hide their blood from mourners. Still his face was swollen from his slow death, cheeks bloated as if filled with air, mouth open in contradiction. He wore the fine clothes he had been hanged in, dark silks that mocked his lowly demise.

The dead did not bother Bendix when their eyes were covered. He gripped the flesh, surprisingly warm – temperature of the night rather than of the deeper soil – and slipped a rope under the arms of the body. Together the two men heaved the corpse over the lip of the grave. Once more, thought Bendix, he has entered the world head first, but this time in silence. Sixes came about and grasped the feet and led them towards the cart.



House of Sight and Shadow book coverThe House of Sight and Shadow

arly Eighteenth-century London, and two doctors are crisscrossing the boundaries of morality in the heady pursuit of scientific progress.  This challenge leads Sir Edmund Calcraft, an eminent and notorious anatomist, and Joseph Bendix, his ambitious young student, into playing a dark game with the lawless side of English society.  But Bendix’s growing passion for a woman he first glimpses in Calcraft’s house threatens to end their mutual quest. 
From gallows to madhouses, from anatomical laboratories to a Frost Fair set on the frozen Thames, the two men compete in both head and heart.  Mixing history, medical lore, and myth, The House of Sight and Shadow is a compelling tale about ambition, deception and the fallibility of both love and reason. 

Random House Trade Paperbacks, ISBN-10: 0375759395


Nicholas Griffin reviews

“This book has everything going for it: quirky characters, a cleverly convoluted plot, great repartee and a lively period setting.”
—The Boston Herald

“A modern day Poe ... Griffin, wh’s fast carving out a niche as an expert chronicler of eighteenth century intrigue and adventure is a writer to watch.” 
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“An impressively imaginative approach to history and a wry tale of a young man who is, to the last, sick with love.” 
—The London Times. 

“Ought to go straight to the Booker Short List for its intelligent writing, original plot, and a remarkable gasp of historical detail and language.” 
—The Daily Mail.

“Refreshingly different ... beautifully plotted ... Griffin conjures up a London that is both distant and exotic, familiar and plausible.” 
—The Independent on Sunday