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5.0 out of 5 stars A topical mystery for the Georgian odd couple, 30 Jun. 2014
This review is from: Theft of Life (Crowther & Westerman 5) (Paperback)
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For anyone who appreciates intelligent historical crime fiction, a new Imogen Robertson novel is a treat. Her knowledge of the 18th Century is broad and deep, but lightly worn, and each new case for the Georgian odd couple of sleuths takes us into fascinating new territory. This latest offering tackles the dark world of slavery, which underpinned so much luxury in Georgian high society. Perhaps it is a happy coincidence, but the recent film "Belle" makes this particularly topical.

We begin with the body of a notorious slave merchant found in the precincts of St Paul's cathedral, but all is not as it seems. A second murder, even more shocking and apparently unconnected, soon follows, and Crowther and Westerman's investigation takes them into the little-known but surprisingly vibrant and successful black community in London at the time. Here is a world where a lucky few may rise to respected and independent financial and social comfort, but not security, for the law regarding slavery is still being fiercely contested and even legally free Negroes can be abducted and sold away from their families at any time. The stakes are high, not just for Africans, but for those in the highest circles of society whose complicity in the vile trade is a matter they might even kill to keep secret.

As usual, Robertson works with a large cast and a varied number of settings - booksellers, swordsmanship schools, nonconformist preachers, engravers, even the launching of a balloon, as well as the more familiar drawing rooms, taverns and coffee houses. Her wide-ranging research and enthusiasm for the late eighteenth century remains undimmed as she steers us through various red herrings to a complex and unexpected denouement. It's a terrific read, and my only reservation is that if you are unfamiliar with her detective duo's previous adventures it may take you a while to get your bearings and work out who's who. But stick with it, and you will be gripped and, probably, eager to read the earlier books in the series. Robertson has taken on a sensitive and still-controversial issue, and handles it with skill and flair.
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