Circle of Shadows by Imogen Robertson
15 August, 2013
In Circle of Shadows, Harriet Westerman, wife and mother, and Gabriel Crowther, reclusive anatomist, take their sleuthing skills for their first adventure abroad in the fourth volume of Imogen Robertson’s engaging historical crime series.
A year after the events of Island of Bones, Harriet Westerman and Gabriel Crowther have resumed their lives and returned to their respective domestic arrangements; Harriet looking after her children and Crowther immersing himself in his scientific research. Harriet’s sister Rachel has married dashing lawyer and family friend Daniel Clode and is on her honeymoon to the Mittel European Duchy of Maulberg when tragedy strikes. At their annual Carnival, Clode is found half-raving mad with his wrists cut. But worse, in the same locked room is the body of a highly influential court lady and former lover of the Duke, murdered and yet spotless.
When news reaches Harriet, together with Crowther and their friend Owen Graves, she rushes to help the Clodes and get to the bottom of the mystery. Because Harriet is convinced Clode is incapable of murder which means he has been framed. As more suspicious deaths resembling ritualistic models of the occult pile up at court, Harriet must seek the aid of her sworn nemesis, the famous and beautiful castrato Manzerotti who happens to be visiting Maulberg at the invitation of the Duke. What is Manzerotti up to and can Harriet really trust him? And can both Crowther and Graves help her find the killer?
In such a tightly controlled and strictly hierarchical society such as Maulberg, also a university town bubbling with secret societies, crazy alchemists and spies, Harriet and Crowther must use their wits to outmanoeuvre a truly diabolical mind.
As per her other novels in the series, Robertson has once again created an interesting mystery this time focusing on the mechanics of a small, Mittel European principality with its petty but iron clad rules and discipline. It is dark yet unsentimental which is a big part of what I like about Robertson’s mysteries and especially refreshing is Harriet and Crowther’s relationship which has grown deeper and yet doesn’t yield to the usual romantic conclusion one normally expects. Also interesting is how Harriet’s relationship with Rachel evolves as previously she was so disapproving of Harriet’s involvement in solving crimes and its affect on her children’s prospects. And as usual, there is the diabolically fascinating Manzerotti who I can’t help but love; so clever, so beautiful and so naughty.
Although the central mystery itself didn’t quite live up to the lofty heights it hinted at in the beginning of the novel, Circle of Shadows is nonetheless a fast-paced and enjoyable read and I can’t wait for the next installment.
Although this is a personal preference, I do recommend you read the books in order just to get a better feel of the developing friendships of the central characters and the loose passage of time. The mysteries themselves are, however, self-contained.
I would like to thank Viking for kindly sending me a copy of Circle of Shadows to review.