Book Quote:

“Should you need me in years to come, you will find a way to discover me, I am sure.   There are ties that bind us together, bonds of blood beyond titles and land.  If you cannot free yourself, call for me, and I shall come to you in one way or another.”

Book Review:

Review by Eleanor Bukowsky  (FEB 27, 2011)

Imogen Robertson’s Instruments of Darkness is set in the village of Hartswood, West Sussex, at a time when the colonies were waging war against England. The male protagonist, the brusque Gabriel Crowther, is an eccentric and a recluse who has a wide-ranging knowledge of and interest in human anatomy. One day, a local woman, Mrs. Harriet Westerman of Caveley Park, pays him a visit and insists that his maid give him the following note: “I have found a body on my land. His throat has been cut.”

Robertson then shifts to Tichfield Street near Soho Square in London. Residing there are a music store proprietor, Alexander Adams, and his two children, the precocious Susan, who is nine, and Jonathan, six. Alexander is a widower who has cut off contact with his birth family for reasons that will later become clear. He ruefully states “that the past must be looked at squarely or it will chase you down,” but he fails to follow this sound advice. Fortunately, Adams has the support of close friends, including a young writer, Mr. Graves, and Mr. and Mrs. Chase, whose single daughter has caught Graves’s eye.

How do all these characters fit together? Readers will need a great deal of patience while the author presents us with an elaborate jigsaw puzzle and then painstakingly fits the pieces together. Although Crowther and Harriet are not romantically involved (she is happily married to a commodore who is at sea, and they have two small children), the two become a sort of Sherlock Holmes and Watson. They put their heads together in an effort to: 1. Learn the identity of the dead man 2. Find out who killed him and why 3. Discover what connection, if any, there is between the victim and the people living in Thornleigh Hall. They include the older Lord Thornleigh, the Earl of Sussex, who is ailing; his low-class young wife; Captain Hugh Thornleigh, who fought against the colonists and came back maimed; and Hugh’s steward, the unpleasant Wicksteed. Harriet insists “There is something wrong in that house. Something wounded and rotten. I am sure of it.”

Instrument of Darkness is reminiscent of Anne Perry’s books, in that it examines the rot that destroys titled and wealthy families from within when they are morally bankrupt. The mystery is not difficult to solve once the clues are laid out, but the villains prove to be so utterly evil that they cease to be realistic. Robertson goes back and forth in time and shifts locales frequently, which can be rather dizzying. In addition, Crowther and Harriet are an odd couple. He is reticent; she is voluble. He is a man of science and reflection. She is a woman of action. For their own reasons, they go out of their way to learn the truth (with a bit of help from Harriet’s eighteen-year-old sister, Miss Rachel Trench), which eventually emerges in all of its sordid details. The conclusion is over the top, and the body count rises alarmingly before the dust finally settles.

To her credit, the author has a good sense of time and place, and her dialogue and prose style are pleasantly fluent. She demonstrates how the redcoats underestimated the American farmers who passionately took up arms against them. In addition, she explores the ways in which the skeletons in one’s closet can destroy relationships. The characters of Susan, her father, and Graves, are particularly appealing and their story is poignant. Finally, Robertson shows how imperfect the criminal justice system was in those days. If Crowther and Harriet had not intervened, no one would have ever learned who the guilty parties really were. Although this is not a top-tier novel—it is a bit too long and has too many subplots, including one about the bitter conflict between Protestants and Catholics—Instruments of Darkness will be of interest to readers who enjoy forensics and historical fiction with gothic overtones.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 3 readers
PUBLISHER: Pamela Dorman Books (February 17, 2011)
REVIEWER: Eleanor Bukowsky
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Imogen Robertson
EXTRAS: Reading Guide
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: More 18th century detective work:

The Serpent in the Garden by Janet Gleeson


February 27, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Facing History, Mystery/Suspense, United Kingdom

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