Imogen Robertson does not write of, or necessarily for, these times. ANATOMY OF MURDER is her second mystery featuring the redoubtable Harriet Westerman and the antisocial Gilbert Crowther, a follow-up to her well-received INSTRUMENTS OF DARKNESS. Set in the early 1780s, Robertson is careful with her historical details, presenting the dirty and gritty world of London and the stifling mannerisms and mores of the time, especially in relation to women. Her period work seems accurate.
What I mean by her not necessarily writing for these times is that this is a dense and chewy novel: slow-paced, filled with lengthy descriptions, set at a languid pace and not all that interested in clocking in at under 350 pages. It is historical fiction for those who have patience.
If you have a bit of time on your hands, and enjoy immersing yourself in another world, Robertson’s craft is apparent, her story intriguing, her cast of characters likable and dynamic.
In this installment, a man is found strangled and then left in the Thames. Westerman and Crowther are called in to investigate, but Westerman at least is reluctant. The details around the first murder they solved have come to haunt her domestic life. Her sister is scandalized by all the attention and feels that Harriet sets a poor example for the young people in the family. But a certain Mr. Palmer, a man very much high up in the government’s inner circle, insists they look into the murder as a matter of patriotism.
They discover the victim to have been a minor figure in a city opera house, and it is the political machinations of the opera that serve as background while Westerman and Crowther interview the principals, do a bit of legwork, and discover that not all is as it seems.
Indeed, as Mr. Palmer suspected, the dead man was almost certainly a French spy. Are there more villains hidden within the opera? Well, someone had to have killed the man. There are plenty of questionable figures: the opera manager, the female lead who was signed by the dead man, the Italian castrato and more.
This is all complemented by the story of Capt. James Westerman, now in a sanitarium after a head injury and acting strangely, and the story of a lower-class tarot card reader who reads the fortune of a young lady who is about to be murdered. The three threads eventually knit together into a thick mystery that Westerman and Crowther solve only at great cost.
Robertson’s series is in its infancy with only two novels, but it’s a strong series with strong characters and an interesting time frame. The relationship between Westerman and Crowther, and between Crowther and the rest of Westerman’s family, continues to grow in promising directions for future installments. If you like historical mysteries, you should like this one. —Mark Rose