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VINE VOICEon 20 May 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a very enjoyable first novel by Imogen Robertson. Set in the late 1700's the story centres on some mysterious deaths that involve the estate and heirs to the Earl of Essex.
Investigating the various problems is Gabriel Crowther, a reclusive early pathologist with a hidden past. He is aided and abetted by his feisty neighbour Mrs Harriet Westerman - she finds the first body.
Harriet is married to a captain who is away at sea. She normally is with him but now has to stay on land to look after their children and their estate. She has a background of nursing so is able to assist Crowther without having an episode of `the vapours'. She is also capable and independent.
The story moves around between them, a family devastated by a seemingly inexplicable murder and the son of the Earl of Essex going back in time a few years to his part in the American War of Independence.
To begin with you wish the story would stick to Harriet and Crowther as they form an interesting pair but as the story develops you find yourself just as keen to know what is happening to the others. Robertson is very good at conveying the horror felt by the Hugh Thornleigh facing the `enemy' fire in America. You cannot help but feel how awful it must have been. She is equally good at giving a sense of desperation and fear to the part of the story set in London at the time of the Gordon Riots.
Harriet and Crowther's relationship - an older man and a younger married woman - is also well set out and the strong bond that grows steadily between them is very believable.
I enjoyed this book and will certainly look out for this author in the future
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VINE VOICEon 21 May 2010
This is a detective novel set in a time before the police, with a 'natural scientist' and the lady of a big house collaborating to find out who has been killing people in the neighbourhood. It's a new twist on an old favourite, a bit like Silent Witness meet Jane Austen. It isn't a comedy novel; it seriously is a mid 18th century murder mystery.
The eldest son of Thornleigh Hall, Adam, is murdered in London, where he has spent the past 20 years in self-imposed exile. His children and friends are caught up in the riots against the Catholics and their identity is secret to everyone, including themselves. His younger brother, Hugh, hideously scarred in the war in America, is sliding towards Lordship as their father slides away from life, but people start to die in mysterious circumstances, including his father's nurse, Miss Beck. She has secret letters from Adam, and so the hunt begins to find the children of the eldest son before they, too die. And who is behind this devilish plot? That would be telling.
The real heroes of the book are Mr Crowther, himself possessed of a dark secret and Harriet, the naval wife who forces him to help her to investigate the deaths. Given that there are no forensic possibilities, they use a remarkable set of deductions and assumptions to help them. Skin under fingernails, scar patterns, fibre; they use as much as they could reasonably expect to in the 1700's to good effect.
It's a detective story; well plotted and I'd love to say slightly formulaic, except that the setting adds enough interesting details to make you enjoy it. The characters are adequate to their roles, and my only real criticism would be that it jumps between London and the country every couple of pages meaning that neither arena has enough time to bed down properly before it's all change again. It's the equivalent of the shaky camera work in The Wire; you know it's supposed to make it more exciting but after a while it just gets annoying. Having said that, it is an enjoyable read and I would recommend it to friends who enjoyed crime novels like Body of Evidence (A Dr. Kay Scarpetta mystery) and felt like a twist in their usual fare.... or perhaps for die-hard The Convenient Marriage Heyer fans. It's interesting; I'd read the next book, if there is one.
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First Sentence: Gabriel Crowther opened his eyes.

Harriet Westerman, wife of a navy commander, has given up sailing with her husband to raise their family and provide a home for her sister at Caverly Park in West Sussex. When she finds the body of a man whose throat has been slit, she summons help from anatomist Gabriel Crowther. The victim has a ring bearing the crest of neighboring Thornleigh Hall. Was the man Alexander Thornleigh, the missing heir to the Earl of Sussex?

London music shop owner Alexander Adams is murdered. Before dying, he tells his daughter to find a box hidden under the counter. Was Alexander the missing heir and how can his children be removed from the city in spite of a killer and the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots?

Wonderful characters make this book a treat to read. Jane Austin fans will quickly associate Harriet Westerman with Mrs. Croft, the captain's wife from "Pursuasion." She has traveled, seen war, is outspoken and not to be put off. Her younger sister, Rachel Trench, is "Jane Eyre," in her attraction to the war-wounded Hugh Thornleigh, younger brother of the missing Alexander and the Mr. Rochester of our story. Gabriel Crowther is a scientist, and something of a recluse until being pulled into the investigation by Harriet and his own curious mind.

There are a lot of characters, including some real historical figures. It was occasionally is difficult to keep track of who is whom. However, they each played their part and added to the overall Gothic feel of the story.

Ms. Robertson convincingly transported me to Georgian England in sight, sound, dialogue appropriate to the period and historical fact. I had not known of the Gordon Riots until now. She also included a perspective of the American Revolution from the viewpoint of a British soldier.

There is a lovely, Gothic feel to this book, but it was not perfect. Happily, in spite of identifying the villains fairly soon, the motive remained a secret until the end. Although story did feel over-long, I was completely involved and never found myself skipping through it.

The book was engrossing and suspenseful, with interesting historical information. The different threads of the plot were brought together well in a slightly overly dramatic fashion.

The most important question is whether I would read another book by this author. The answer is a definite "yes," and it's already on order.

INSTRUMENTS OF DARKNESS (His Mys-Gabriel Crowther/Harriet Westerman-England-1780) - G+
Robertson, Imogen - 1st in series
Headline, ©2009, UK Hardcover - ISBN: 9780755348398
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on 14 May 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
One is told never to judge a book by its cover, but in the case of Imogen Robertson's Instruments of Darkness the temptation to contradict that injunction is great. What you see is what you get - eighteenth century estate gates, florid type script, romantically dark. Instruments of Darkness is not a literary masterpiece, but a thoroughly enjoyable read for all that.

It is a tale of murders and intrigue in the 1700s, told through two concurrent narratives and flashbacks to earlier times during the American War of Independence. It is a tale where the characters are somewhat archetypically good or bad, and a plot to which you can satisfyingly guess the outcomes before they occur - it feels as though you are figuring out the mystery alongside the main protagonists which is not at all an unpleasant reading experience. Gabriel Crowther and Harriet Westerman (I was intrigued by the choice of this uncommon name which happens to be one of my own family names) are well drawn and likeable characters who pursue the perpetrator of a number of grisly murders taking place within their community, as well as unearthing earlier, connected, heinous deeds.

The action takes place during the time of the Gordon Riots, and Robertson has researched the period thoroughly. Her descriptive powers make the reading of this story all the more pleasurable and, strangely enough, I really enjoyed her predilection for similes: "The door burst open. Lady Thornleigh stood on the threshold. It was as if a phoenix had torn off the front off a dovecote". Imogen Robertson also trusts her readers sufficiently to leave much unsaid which would otherwise be tiresome. Instruments of Darkness is a comfortable and entertaining read.
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VINE VOICEon 1 August 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Without giving too much away, this is a classic murder mystery novel set in the 18th century.

Imagine a world without phorensics, without computer databases of DNA and with the overriding feeling pervading that the ruling classes can say or do what they like to create the best situation for themselves, including murder.

When a body is discovered in the grounds of Claverly Hall, the mystery begins as the lonely but curious sets out to investigate the murder and its dark connections with Gabriel Crowther a dark and relatively unknown figure who lives in the area.

The story itself starts of fairly slowly, which is it's main, shortcoming, but the story telling is very descriptive and creates the sense of atmosphere which matches the dark nature of the times.

Any historical novel gets a good mark in my book if it teaches the reader about the period with the added bonus of adding a good story too. The telling of the anti papal riots in London adds an interesting additional element, but thankfully at its core the story maintains just enough momentum to keep those pages turning.

An excellent first novel and definitely an author I'd look out for again.
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VINE VOICEon 28 September 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I can't agree with the Daily Telegraph about wanting to read every word, great page-turner etc etc! This kind of story is usually right up my street, but I found this disappointing. It had all the ingredients, but somehow failed to deliver. That said, there were some passages and flashes of excellent writing that give me hope for further books by this author. As a debut novel, it has promise.

I won't describe the plot, as many reviewers have already done this, suffice to say that it's a gothic murder-mystery, set in the 18th century, with some good deduction/detection stuff as the heroine and her anatomist colleague unravel the crime. However, I must have started it a dozen times, then put it down, picked it up again and had to start again because I'd forgotten what had happened!

It's so-so - not a bad airport book, and has some good ideas, just not very gripping. I also agree with another reveiwer who said it was very "feminine", and would not engage a male reader.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 9 August 2012
Gabriel Crowther, a reclusive anatomist, is annoyed to be pulled from his bed, to attend the scene of a murder on a country property. In 1780, his work on anatomy is frowned upon and questioned, and he prefers to remain to himself. In London at the same time, Alexander Adams, a keen musician and quiet friend to Owen Graves is about to be murdered. Are the two incidents related? And if so, how? What secrets does Thornleigh Hall hold, where the Earl of Sussex lies in limbo between life and death. What happened to his heir? And what is Hugh, the second son, hiding? Crowther and Harriet Westerman, looking after her husband's estate while he is serving in the Navy for King George III, each have their own reasons for wanting to find out; while wanting to remain in their own private spheres.

Polite society, the common dregs of society, the Gordon Riots (which may be familiar to readers of Dickens' Barnaby Rudge), the backdrop of the American War of Independence; all are skilfully woven into a narrative which tells of secrets, skullduggery, love and attempts at redemption. The writing is witty and fully engaging to the reader; the nuances of Eighteenth Century society are wonderfully captured in drawing room scenes and in scenes in the King's Army; the author has a brilliant talent with the words and with her style of writing.

I look forward with eagerness to the next in the series.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This historical novel follows multiple players through multiple sub-plots drawing everything together at the end. It is well written and the characters are well cast with Crowther and Westerman at its core. At its heart the book, like CJ Sansom's novels, is a detective story set in the past although it'd not quite up to Sansom's standards. This would be too much to hope for.

I found the book a pleasant read and would seek out further work by the author.
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on 26 June 2010
I am afraid I found this book very mediocre. It was given a very good review by 'The Guardian' and I had great expections but I was very let down. I have read thousands of thrillers but this particular book I am afraid did not hold my attention at all and I did not feel that the plot was original. However in its favour it was itelligently written and for a debut novel was not all bad. I will re-read it in time and perhaps see it in a different light.
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VINE VOICEon 11 May 2012
The author sets herself a stiff challenge by running multiple narrative threads in parallel: threads separated in both time and space, but with cross referring characters and plot impact. To her credit she carries it off very well; the jumps never seem artificial and one always knows where one is. The setting and plot are cobbled together from a range of sources (e.g. Barnaby Rudge, Middlemarch, Jane Eyre and presumably others that I didn't spot), but make a reasonably coherent whole. The mystery isn't very mysterious really and the climax basically boils down to the villain saying "it's a fair cop, I done it and you got me bang to rights guv'nor", but the strengths of the book outweigh the weaknesses. I'm not sure though, about Captain Thornleigh - an aristocrat and an officer - firing a musket in battle; doesn't seem very likely to me.
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