Anatomy of Murder by Imogen Robertson, Pamela Dorman Books, February 2012
...this engrossing mystery is the best kind of historical fiction
Set in London 1781, this engrossing mystery is the best kind of historical fiction. Britain is at war with France and trying to suppress the revolt in America. Harriet Westerman, an upper class woman with an interest in investigating mysteries is awaiting the return of her gravely injured husband a Royal Navy captain. A body is pulled from the Thames and Westerman and her colleague Crowther are asked to find the murderer by one of the King’s agents. There is suspicion that French spies are stealing naval secrets and there are treasonous Brits involved. The murder investigation centers on performers and staff at the His Majesty’s theater where a renowned international opera company is performing for the season. Many of the performers have secrets that are revealed as the plot progresses.
A parallel story unfolds with Jocasta Bligh, a working class Londoner who earns her living “plucking truth” from the Tarot cards. Jocasta is alerted to the traitors when the wife of one of them comes to her for a card reading and is killed shortly afterwards. Jocasta befriends a young boy, Sam and together they search out the man who murdered this woman. While Westerman’s investigation is carried out in the drawing rooms and society gatherings of the day, Bligh works in the seamy underside of the London docks. Toward the end of the story Jocasta’s investigations finally connect with Westerman’s and then the action really takes off.
This story has a marvelously detailed setting. The portions that take place in the opera house school the reader on 18th century theater, opera in particular and the strange phenomenon of “castrati”, young boys castrated to enhance their singing voice. Additionally the streets of London seem alive with the characters and activities of the time period. The author has included real characters (the Earl of Sandwich, Lord North) that are interspersed with the fictional characters in the story. The plot is complicated but not for a diligent reader. The language used is a wonderful tool that contributes to the historical setting. There are numerous references to the first book in this series that I did find annoying mainly because I had not read it. So as I said in the opening sentence this is the best kind of historical fiction!
I read a copy of this novel provided by the publisher