Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Instruments of Darkness

Mystery series are all about character. The mystery can be the twisty-est ever, the settings creepy enough to give your shivers the shivers and the dialog straight out of The Thin Man BUT if the detectives are not charismatic, intriguing and entertaining your interest in the series will die along with the murder victim in book one.  Luckily this is not the case in ImogenRobertson’s series of mystery novels.
Robertson’s detectives are Harriet Westerman and Gabriel Crowther. Robertson introduces us to them in her novel  Instruments of Darkness. Harriet is the wife of an officer in His Majesty’s Navy and Gabirel is a reclusive anatomist who 30 years ago stepped away from his titled and troubled family. The year is 1780 so there is no such thing as a detective professional or amateur. These two come together after the discovery of a body on the border between Harriet and her husband’s property and the neighboring estate, Thornleigh Hall.

After this set up the plot moves along agreeably. There are: missing heirs, an emotionally and physically disfigured veteran from the Redcoat side of the American Revolution, a stolen signet ring, a rich husband hovering over his grave, a much younger morally questionable wife, a mob taking over London in an anti-Catholic passion (The Gordon Riots.) and the burgeoning, sometimes  unlawful sciences of the period. In short Instruments of Darkness has chapter after chapter of satisfying melodrama, mystery and characters.

However, it is primarily Harriet and Gabriel who Robertson wants you invested in. If you think too much about what you are reading you may wonder at a respectable woman’s involvement with an unmarried man in solving a murder in 1780 but chances are anyone who picks up any kind of historical fiction is already well versed in the historical novelists’ most frequent creation;  the woman ahead of her time. Aside from this typical anachronism Robertson has struck gold with the Harriet-Gabriel combo. They each bring an out of the ordinary perspective to the events along with complex personal lives and terrific chemistry.

In the subsequent books in this series Anatomy of Murder and Island of Bones Imogene Robertson opens up her detectives private lives even more—much to the readers delight-- and expands our knowledge of Georgian England. The history of the period is obviously something Robertson knows a lot about. She definitely has the gift for using her research to the advantage of the narrative.

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