1 March 2012

Review: INSTRUMENTS OF DARKNESS, Imogen Robertson

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 520 KB
  • Publisher: Headline (April 1, 2010)
    first published 2009
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004KZONU4
  • Source: I bought it.
Product Description (Amazon)

Daphne du Maurier meets CSI in this exhilarating debut

Thornleigh Hall, seat of the Earl of Sussex, dominates its surroundings. Its heir is missing, and the once vigorous family is reduced to a cripple, his whore and his alcoholic second son, but its power endures. Impulsive Harriet Westerman has felt the Hall’s menace long before she happens upon a dead man bearing the Thornleigh arms. The grim discovery cries out for justice, and she persuades reclusive anatomist Gabriel Crowther to her cause, much against his better judgement; he knows a dark path lies before those who stray from society’s expectations.

That same day, Alexander Adams is killed in a London music shop, leaving his young children orphaned. His death will lead back to Sussex, and an explosive secret that has already destroyed one family and threatens many others.

My Take

Publisher's Weekly called this  "a period thriller, with complicated leads and informative details that illuminate 18th-century England for modern readers."

Certainly INSTRUMENTS OF DARKNESS kept reminding me of the Gothic thrillers such as those written by Victoria Holt, Susan Howatch, and even Georgette Heyer, read in my younger days. There's murder, corruption,  a race against time, a grand house, secrets, a bit of far flung drama, and some historical settings thrown in for good measure.

The historical setting is an unusual one as it is two pronged. The novel begins in 1780 in Sussex with the discovery of a murder. The master of the house is away at the American War and we learn of the second historical link: the battle for Concorde Massachusetts in 1775, the "shot that was heard around the world", that was the true beginning for the American War of Independence. However, while the historical details appear to be accurate, the settings are not really essential to the story. I suspect they will provide a bit of a puzzle to some readers. I wasn't aware of the extent of the rioting in London in 1780, so I've added to my knowledge there. (Gordon Riots)

I found the sleuthing pair, Harriet Westerman and Gabriel Crowther an interesting combination, if a little unlikely. Harriet is the wife of the sea captain away at the American War, recently arrived to the property next door to Thornleigh Hall. Her husband's absence gives her a leeway she certainly wouldn't have if he were at home. Gabriel Crowther is an anatomist, who studies dead bodies to learn what they can tell him. I found him interesting in the light of THE RESURRECTION MEN, Sara Fraser which I read early last month, although INSTRUMENTS OF DARKNESS (Crowther's anatomy tools) is set about 50 years earlier. Westerman and Crowther face a lot of opposition from the local Squire and the coroner whose methods are old fashioned.

If you are looking for historical crime fiction set in a "different" period of English history, then this may hit the spot.

My rating: 4.4

Crowther and Westerman (Fantastic Fiction)
1. Instruments of Darkness (2009)
2. Anatomy of Murder (2010)
3. Island of Bones (2011) - shortlisted for the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Dagger 2011
4. Circle of Shadows (2012)

Other reviews & sites to check

4 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Kerrie - This does sound interesting. As you say, it's a "different" period of English history and the story sounds engaging. Might definitely give this a try.

Susan said...

I read this quite recently, though I have yet to do my review for it. I enjoyed the book very much, though I had the occasional problem with how Harriet Westerman behaves, how much leeway she has to be seen in the company of a man she is not related or married to. Yet, despite that, the book moves along very well, and the characters are well developed also. I will be reading the second one in the series to see how it progresses.

kathy d. said...

I am glad to see your review as I just bought this book for a friend for her birthday. She is a lover of historical fiction, especially Anne Perry's or the delightful series by Ariana Franklin aka Diana Norman.

I am going to try to find some more historical fiction by Norman.

Imogen Robertson's series was highly recommended by a U.S. blogger/reviewer.

Kerrie said...

Yes, I thought she led a rather liberated life style Susan. I also had a problem with the age of the little girl (Susan). She seemed a lot older than 9 or 11 to me.

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