Anatomy of Murder by Imogen Robertson
7 August, 2013
Following on from their adventure in Instruments of Darkness, Harriet Westerman and Gabriel Crowther once again find themselves embroiled in intrigue and murder in the sequel, Anatomy of Murder by Imogen Robertson.
With London fawning over the imminent performance at His Majesty’s Opera House by the mesmerising French soprano Isabella Marin and the exquisite Italian castrato Manzerotti as the backdrop, both Harriet and the reclusive Crowther tread the path between privilege and the darkness that underpins their city. For a French spy is on the loose and they are given the task of saving their country and the men who fight so bravely for her. And amongst them is Harriet’s husband James, a highly decorated naval captain who has sustained a grave head injury throwing their marriage into jeopardy.
As Crowther tries to draw Harriet out of her domestic darkness with the lure of mystery and puzzle-solving, they must hunt down a ruthless killer who has killed a man working for His Majesty’s Opera House but with ties that go deep into the heart of government. And as the bodies mount up, it is only with the help of Jocasta Bligh, a reader of cards and someone who has always kept her own counsel, that Harriet and Crowther can finally tie the threads that will bind their killer and spy before tragedy strikes closer to home.
In the follow-up to her first novel, Robertson hasn’t just provided another mystery for both Harriet and Crowther to unravel. She has opened up the world of musical London in the form of the musical sensation of the period, the strange and captivating allure of the castrati. As in Instruments of Darkness, music plays an important role in her new novel but she has twinned the thrill and fast pace of espionage during a period when Britain and France are waging battles on the seas. Not only does Harriet have to deal with matters of state defense, but she has to cope with a sick husband who has changed considerably from the man she married and who cannot remember their life together.
One of the things I admire about Robertson’s books is the character of Harriet. She is strong and eccentric but also a wife and mother. And she has this wonderful friendship with the reclusive Crowther who can only be described as her soul-mate albeit a platonic one. Robertson has managed to flesh out a character who is complex and earthy, infusing her with all the paradoxes of a real, emotional woman without making her sentimental. Although I very much like Crowther, he with the painful past and dry intellect, it is Harriet who is the more complex of the two. I like the idea that she isn’t a woman that one can box into a category. Within her own society she is labelled as troublesome and eccentric, and although she cannot help getting involved, she also struggles with the consequences it may have on her family resulting in a loving yet quarrelsome relationship with her younger, more socially conscious sister Rachel. And yet she can’t stop.
The friendship between Harriet and Crowther is one based on mutual respect and understanding and, more importantly, acceptance of their difficult characters. Their growing confidence in each other as the series progresses is subtly done. As in the previous novel, the plot is fast paced and multi-faceted making Anatomy of Murder an absorbing read. I can’t wait to read the next in the series, Island of Bones, where we finally delve into Crowther’s painful past.