REN IS AN orphan living in a Catholic orphanage somewhere in New England in what seems like the 19th century. His left hand is missing, and his name is derived from initials embroidered on a scrap of collar that was with him when he was left at the orphanage as an infant. He does not know who his parents were, or what the initials stand for, or how he lost his hand.
He will get answers to all three questions by the end of the book, after a series of adventures with one Benjamin Nab, who, claiming to be a relative, "adopts" Ren and takes him on as an assistant in his business, which is mainly exhuming recently-buried corpses and selling them to medical practitioners.
Already sounds a bit Dickensian, doesn't it? Orphans, resurrection men? There is more than a touch of Treasure Island as well, with Ren as Jim Hawkins, and a plot crowded with incident: pursuits, escapes, violent confrontations, nighttime adventures in graveyards, unexpected revelations.
Narratives as self-consciously retro as this one is can grate on the nerves, but Tinti keeps the pace swift and the style spare, escaping the pitfalls a writer can all too easily tumble into in trying to write a ninetieth century novel in the twenty-first. It would be interesting to see what she could do with a contemporary setting.