Monday, January 3, 2011
The Anatomy of Ghosts
With 30+ published novels and many awards and honors to his credit you would think that I would have come across or been handed something by Andrew Taylor by now. Where the heck have I been? Or is it that Mr. Taylor's been avoiding me? hmmm....
Anyway. I have started Taylor's books at the end and I will happily work my way backwards through his list. My beginning was his most recent book The Anatomy of Ghosts and why wait three paragraphs to say it? Anatomy it is a page-turning delight from beginning to end. It was fun, interesting, exciting and very engaging.
The Anatomy of Ghosts is a historical murder mystery set at Cambridge University in 1786. The only child of Lady Anne Oldershaw, Frank, is a student at Jerusalem College at the University. For reasons that no one can or will explain, Frank, heretofore a strapping and lively youth (to use the vernacular), has had a breakdown. In fact he's gone mad. Prior to his illness Frank claimed to have seen the ghost of the recently downed Sylvia Whichcote and has been placed by friends under the care of the sinister Dr Jermyn. Desperate to discover what happened and seek a cure for her son, Lady Anne hires a down on his luck bookseller named John Holdsworth under the ruse of ascertaining the condition of the library at Jerusalem but actually to find out what really happened to Frank. The choice of Holdsworth as private investigator for her Ladyship is the result of his treatise, The Anatomy of Ghosts. His literary debunking of apparitions from the afterlife might make him Frank's best chance.
Despite the setting and time period Holdsworth is a classic modern detective. I don't mean to imply that his techniques are not true to the 1780's. Not at all. Taylor has clearly done his research and uses is to wonderful effect. You don't need to be told that the year is 1786 it's there on every page in the details and the speech. I mean that like 99% of the detectives since 1930 Holdsworth is the tortured loner with issues.
Andrew Taylor has striped away the gravitas of Cambridge and reveals the dog eat dog struggle of it's academics, teachers and administrators. In The Anatomy of Ghosts Cambridge is the only game in a company town. This poisonous atmosphere is crawling with suspects. There are creeping servants, dim masters, doctors medical, philosophical and religious with hidden agendas, parasites, secret societies with unsavory leanings, unhappy wives and cunning scholars. With so many choices Holdsworth has his hands full and we have fabulous entertainment.
The Anatomy of Ghosts has it all: terrific writing, a strong mystery, marvelous characters and lots of surprises. Get a copy and when you start it be prepared to carry it with you everywhere. You'll want to use all those odd moments you have during the day to keep reading!