Daniel Clode, an Englishman, is found in a locked room with the body of a young lady beside him from the court of the Duke of Maulberg in Germany. With his wrists cut and no memory of what happened, he is in danger of facing the executioner's axe. His wife asks for her sister to be sent for from England, along with her friend, a reclusive anatomist. Together with their friend Graves, and with the help of the local district officer, they start unravelling the secrets running far and wide through Maulberg's polite society.
This was an unexpected page-turner which I devoured in a matter of days. This is already the fourth instalment in Imogen Robertson's series of historical murder mysteries featuring Harriet Westerman and Gabriel Crowther, yet her name had never registered on my radar before. It is difficult to give a detailed review of this book, because I would risk inadvertently giving too much away, so suffice to say that I enjoyed it immensely. The characters are all very well drawn, and there is a fascinating personal dynamic at work here which goes back to previous novels. The central mystery is complex (involving alchemy, automata, poison, a confidence trickster and a secret society (and if one wanted to be critical, this was possibly just a little far-fetched)), but the reader is always reminded of the individual human stories and tragedies that make up the strands of the bigger picture. The author's style is fluent, the sense of atmosphere of the opulent court and the surrounding towns at the end of 18th-century Germany palpable. Based on the strength of this novel, I will definitely seek out her previous offerings. Recommended.
Circle of Shadows is the fourth of Imogen Robertson's books featuring her intrepid and highly likeable 18th century sleuthing duo, wealthy widow Harriet Westerman and reclusive anatomist Gabriel Crowther. I started the series in March and am now fully up-to-date and totally addicted.
A different aspect of either Crowther or Westerman's life features in each of the books; this time Harriet's sister Rachel and her husband Daniel Clode take centre stage, and I have to admit I wasn't very excited at the prospect as both characters have come across as a bit dull and prim in previous books. Rachel and Daniel are on honeymoon in Europe when Harriet receives a distressing and hysterical letter from her sister telling her that Daniel has been imprisoned in a small German state, accused of a brutal murder. Without much ado, Harriet assembles a small entourage, including Crowther of course, and they set off to clear Daniel's name, quickly becoming embroiled in a web of plotting, intrigue and murder to rival any Tudor court.
My only criticism would be, amidst the numerous courtiers and servants involved in the storyline, there wasn't enough of the main duo (C&W) for my liking; Crowther in particular seemed to be almost a secondary character, called on to carry out the odd autopsy but otherwise taking a bit of a back seat. However, the wonderful Michaels (landlord and general good egg from Harriet's home village) does get a chance to shine, setting off on his own adventure to discover the whereabouts of a key figure linking the murders.
So overall perhaps not my favourite of the series (Instruments of Darkness and Island of Bones are tying for that title) but I still thoroughly enjoyed it and found it a very entertaining and interesting read. I love the vivid late 18th century historical detail which is prevalent throughout these novels and the partnership of Crowther and Westerman is an intriguing and very engaging one. Personally I think this is one of those series where you really do benefit from starting with book one and working your way through - Robertson alludes to previous events quite often without really going into detail about them, which could be frustrating for new readers. One of the benefits for me of reading all four in fairly quick succession is that the characters and events are still fresh in my mind, but the downside is that I now feel bereft because I won't be getting another instalment of these adventures for at least another year.
The German Duchy of Maulberg is in festive mood in 1784, ahead of the wedding of its ruler, when a noblewoman is murdered. By the body is English visitor Daniel Clode who has apparently tried to cut his own wrists. It seems like an open-and-shut case, but Daniel is the brother-in-law of Harriet Westerman, noted amateur detective, and the Duke of Maulberg owes a lot of money to English financiers -- money he can't afford to have called in now -- so the officials of Maulberg have incentives to delve a little deeper in their search for the truth.
Harriet sets off as soon as she hears the news, accompanied by reclusive surgeon Gabriel Crowther; the two have been through so many adventures together that neither hesitates when the other is in trouble. Of course, the news of Daniel's arrest takes so long to reach them and their own journey even longer that two months have passed by the time they reach the scene of the crime and they are relieved to discover that Daniel has not been tried and executed in the meantime. It's not long before it dawns on Harriet that this murder was not the first and will almost certainly not be the last.
I enjoy both historical fiction and crime fiction but the marriage of the two is not always as successful as it is here. Robertson is a skilled writer, both in her elegant prose style and in the vivid characters she creates. She weaves the strands of her plot into a pleasing whole with great deftness.
A foreign setting allows her to introduce some interesting new characters, most notably Jacob Pegel, a young man masquerading as a brilliant student who is, in truth, a spy, seeking out revolutionaries. Another vivid character is the castrato who travels all over Europe, singing, but also acting as a hitman for governments and powerful men. Harriet holds the greatest grudge of all against him but they must make peace and work together if lives are to be saved.
It also places our British heroes in a country that is, to all intents and purposes, an absolute monarchy, with all that that implies. In this world of the Enlightenment lurk those who still believe in demons and angels, the resurrection of the death and ritual blood-letting.
I recommend reading the novels in order. I had read only the first before this one and it gives away rather too much of the plots of the second and third, making it unlikely that I shall go back and read those.
I found this a well written and on the whole enjoyable historical crime novel. I had not read any of the previous novels in this series but I didn't find that detracted from this one; necessary details are very well woven into the story and although it may be better to read the series in order it certainly isn't necessary.
The story is set in the fictional German province of Maulberg in 1784. Imogen Robertson paints a convincing period backdrop and I found the sense of time and place one of the strengths of the book. She has elected to make her characters speak in a slightly more formal version of modern English rather than in the idiom of the time, and again I think this works very well, allowing the dialogue and story to flow while still giving an impression of taking place in the eighteenth century. The characters are generally well-drawn and interesting and I was happy to spend time with Harriet Westerman and Gabriel Crowther.
The plot itself involves a wrongly accused friend in need of salvation, political intrigue, mysterious cabals, poisonings and so on and is quite enjoyable. I did feel that it could have done with some trimming: things began to drag a little after 250 pages, I never felt completely gripped by the story and the sheer number of characters with Germanic names made it a little hard to keep track of, which didn't help.
Nevertheless, it was well written and well plotted and made a largely engaging read. If if you like historical fiction or a decent crime novel I can recommend it.
Set in a principality within Germany in the late eighteenth century, this book has all Ms Robertson's trademarks of detailed research and conjured atmosphere. I reviewed her first book, Instruments of Darkness, and this novel has the same intrepid main characters. I am happy to say I have warmed to them since I first met them and they do not stale on further acquaintance.
The plot is busy, to say the least, and the subplots are equally involved. The characters are very carefully developed, even the smallest walk-on parts and I think one can have too much of a good thing in this. At points, it felt like , 'And a cast of thousands!'. This does not add clarity to the story-telling but some might find it adds body to the book. I found the listing of who's who from the previous novels a bit tedious, especially the rather confusing roll-call of children, but maybe I wasn't paying enough attention.
The descriptive narrative is good and sets the historical scene convincingly. The dialogue reads easily with little clumsiness. I found the principality's Duke the weakest of the characters; his dialogue is embarrassing at times and sounds very stilted. I could not feel any presence to him at all.
The murders are suitably shocking; the denouement rests partly on clues we have not been given, which is a bit mischievous. Being of an enquiring turn of mind, I was disappointed not to find out how the murderer had managed to perpetrate such ghastly acts nor how he had lured his victims to their doom. Perhaps I am too practical.
Overall the book leads one on easily from page to page and there are plenty of suspects to hand. It is never boring, and that is a good recommendation.
I remember reviewing this author's first book. 'Instruments of Darkness' which introduced an eccentric Gabriel Crowther, one of the first forensic pathologists and Harriet Westerman, a very pleasant and interfering - all in a good cause, you understand - lady of some means. These two are the central characters in this book which I think is the fourth in the series.
The story takes them to Germany to 'rescue' Harriet's brother-in-law from the clutches of a German legal system which normally likes a clean cut ending to a murderer's conviction. Crowther and Harriet must thwart the German executioner which they do with remarkable ease and with the full compliance of the ruler of the small province within the German country.
But then the story begins to unfold as further bodies are discovered, some previously thought to be suicides or natural deaths but by dint of knowledge and intelligent guesswork, are proven, by our heroes, to be murder. So, the game's afoot as a somewhat sinister 'undercover agent' is also pursuing a group of people whom, it is believed, are intent of ruining the status quo in Germany and to eventually change the world order.
It seems a bit unfair to cast the Freemasons in this light though their secrective ways have led many to believe such matters might be going on, even today. I have no idea but, in the case before us, a breakaway group of radicals is certainly doing its best to eliminate people of influence in the Province.
Fortunately, the good people of the Province offer as much help as they can to Crowther and Harriet, not forgetting a coterie of friends who have accompanied them from England in the first instance.
I like these books. The slow pace of the investigation does not hinder the storyline. The author puts in place several side stories which, little by little, merge together, giving one or two other characters a chance to shine.
She paints an excellent scene-setting, her knowledge of such a period in the late 1700s appears genuine and the fact that there is a history behind the main characters does not spoil this book as a stand-alone novel. For pure enjoyment, I would suggest this mini series is well worth reading from book 1 but, if that doesn't take your fancy, do start to follow the pair from this book onwards. In a quirk of publishing, the paperback of book three will probably be released at the same time as this hardback, so if you have the patience, buy both - the earlier book certainly hardens up dear Harriet who then meets her nemesis in this book 4 again.
When I first started this book I couldn't get in to it at all but once it got going I found it enjoyable. Very descriptive if the late 1700's in some of the smaller German states it is well researched.
with her brother in law arrested for murder Harriett Westerman, in the company of her old friend Gabriel Crowther and the Thornlea Estates administrator, Owen Graves, sets off to the Duchy of Maulberg in Germany to rescue him and her sister.
With threads of freemasonry, alchemy, automaton's and power struggles running through it, Imogen Robertson weaves a complicated story.
A good read.
The last time I encountered Harriett Westerman and Crowther was in "Instruments of Darkness", their first outing. In this, their fourth adventure, much has happened and so parts of the story fill in the blanks for thosewho, like me haven't read all the previos books. With some authors, this slows down the plot, but Robertson isn't among the frantic fraternity, so the backstory seem a more natural part of the story telling.
As for the plot, it unfolds gently and satisfyingly, with the claustrophobic atmosphere of the Court at Maulberg beautifully conveyed. Crowther and Westerman's chalk and cheese double act is well supported by an interesting bunch, some of whom readers of the series will have met nefore. Robertson is one of those authors who likes the reader to see only what the characters see - no early unmasking of the villian here - so the leisurely pace of the book doesn't grate, rather you feel as if you want to read on for the next clue.
If, like me, you enjoy crime fiction, this might be one for you.
on 30 September 2012
This is the 4th (and most recent) addition to this set of books. Set in Germany 1783 with characters from previous books.
An historic murder mystery with twists and turns aplenty.
I have recommended these books to friends and family members and will update here when they have read them.
I would recommend that you try to read these books in this order..
1. Instruments of Darkness
2. Anatomy of Murder
3. Island of Bones
4. Circle of Shadows
However, if you don't manage to, you will still enjoy these books. They are rather gripping. I am eagerly hopeful for a 5th book in this series (and hopefully more...)
on 28 April 2012
I'll confess that I didn't read the prologue sufficiently carefully. Had I done so I'd have worked out more of this complex plot much sooner. But it's okay to be lazy in one of Imogen Robertson's novels as you can trust her to have her large array of characters well in hand. This leaves the reader free to enjoy new people, new places, new happenings and savour the poetic and distinctive choice of language. from the moment that I heard that the soil was 'stunned' by the winter cold I knew I was once again in safe writerly hands. Like the late great Margery Allingham, who she sometimes resembles, one reading of an Imogen Robertson novel is not anywhere near enough.