Friday, April 8, 2011

Murder and Mayhem

It's not often that I blog about a murder mystery. After all, I'm an admirer of serious literary fiction. But come on – a country estate in late 18th century England, a mysterious anatomist, dead bodies, arsenic, riots and mayhem, a mysterious ring, orphaned children - I'm entitled to a little fun every now and then.

Imogen Robertson's Instruments of Darkness had plenty to keep me entertained. In the very first chapter, in bucolic West Sussex, a maid awakens her master to deliver a note sent by his neighbor: I have found a body on my land. His throat has been cut. That's the way to get things started! The scene soon shifts to a London music store where a friendly shop owner is murdered in front of his horrified children. What's the connection?

Robertson swings between these two storylines, as well as to scenes in Massachusetts during the Revolutionary War. The odd couple sifting through the clues are country neighbors – Gabriel Crowther, a scientist with a mysterious past, and Harriet Westerman, the intelligent if somewhat bored wife of a naval commander who is away at sea. Their relationship is initially prickly but they come to respect each other as they examine bodies, interrogate maids and rifle desk drawers, and it is their humor and honesty that keep things entertaining, even as the bodies pile up.

Robertson does occasionally gets a little carried away with her prose: “...he swung from his bed and began to dress, letting the shreds of his too-brief rest scatter about the floorboards of his room”. (Does the maid have to sweep up those shreds?). But if you're looking for an enjoyable historical whodunit (and why) I can recommend this one.

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