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Theft of Life (Crowther & Westerman 5) Hardcover – 22 May 2014
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From the first Robertson's books have combined intricate plotting with vivid reconstruction of Georgian society. This one is no exception (The Sunday Times)
[A] gripping blend of the Georgian gothic and the forensic thriller (Independent)
A true force in historical fiction (Daily Mail)
The pleasure lies in the steady unfurling of a period crime series (1871) that doesn't rely on declamatory villains and rhubarbing local colour (Christopher Fowler)
Stylish, enigmatic and wonderfully atmospheric. It's a story of secrecy and shame, reason and passion, that resonates long after you reach the final page (Francis Wheen)
Deliciously chilling and dangerous. The plot and characters are absolutely mesmerising, drawing you in to their world like the opium itself (Karen Maitland, author of Company of Liars)
The Paris Winter is in another class altogether... The vivid description of life in the Belle Époque - whether of the rich upper classes and their servants; or students, artists and members of the Parisian underworld - the plausible plot, and a sensitive understanding of art and artists make this a fascinating novel that I read in a single sitting and admired greatly (Literary Review)
Robertson makes a welcome return to 18th Century England and the historical mystery genre... The author does an especially terrific job with day-to-day detail... a juicy read (Herald, Dublin)
The electrifying new historical thriller from the acclaimed author of The Paris Winter --This text refers to the Paperback edition.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
The story is set in May 1785, and the body of a West Indies planter is found on the grounds near to St Paul’s Cathedral. William Geddings, a senior footman in Harriet’s household recognises the dead man, and despite themselves Harriet and Gabriel are caught up in the brutal and powerful world of the slave traders and those who profit from the trade in human lives and misery.
Another fantastic read in this series, this book really brought home to me a taste of the horrific reality of slavery, and how it could even affect lives so far away from the Indies, in a supposedly civilised and enlightened country. Profit and greed are great motivators for those who are prepared to leave their morals and humanity behind, so I suppose some things never change. I have found myself compelled to find further reading around the sugar trade, and the slave trade, and the West Indies in this period.
Thoroughly recommended, as are all the books in this series, starting with the first, Instruments of Darkness.
Fifth in a series. Clearly it helps to have read the others. I had not, at once almost overwhelmed by all the names in the first few pages. No need to worry! The novel stands up well on its own, I very soon engrossed in an impressively constructed murder mystery. Grim details emerge of shameful times in the country's history: the wealth that made Britain great owing so much to the exploitation of slaves.
Evocatively set in the period, the novel boasts many strengths - full blooded characters and great dialogue particularly. Crowther and Westerman appeal as a couple, both credible individuals in their own right - often at odds but each respecting the other, despite provocations. Indeed the pages abound with people one can believe in, some rising most movingly from appalling pasts - Harriet's trusted manservant William Geddings, coloured bookseller Francis Glass, runaway slave Tobias Christopher, even young Eustache whose family history alarms (to put it mildly). Villains? Naming them here would represent spoilers, but astute readers will never be in doubt who they are. Likeable villains include the seemingly thoroughly disreputable Molloy, but he has his standards and is good to have on one's side. Who would have expected Bounder and Creech inadvertently to be such a comedy double act! Despite grim aspects, humour helps all to go with a zing.
Throughout intensive research is never allowed to get in the way of a good story. (At the end of it all, Imogen Robertson tells of the real people and events that helped inspire her. Note particularly the portrayal of Clarkson, he to prove far more important than suggested by his gushy, tactless first appearance.)
That Epilogue is appreciated - much revealed about what became of the characters.
In short, everything combines to make this a most enjoyable read. Although set firmly in the past, it prompts wry thoughts about modern times - as though people in high places would still be closing ranks to prevent shameful secrets from coming to light!
The plot revolves around the relationship, professional and personal, of two central characters, Gabriel Crowther and Harriet Westerman, as they find themselves drawn into a murder mystery which seems to point directly into Britain's involvement in the slave trade. There's plenty of darkness worked into those angles and some strong characters emerge to carry the plot along. I don't know how much research Imogen Robertson did before she wrote 'Theft of Life' but she certainly packs a punch when dealing with those dreadful chapters in British history. She makes her fiction very real and easy to believe in.
The era, London 1785, is nicely evoked and the historical scene setting good without becoming overwhelming. The mix of amateur sleuth and anatomist working through a politically sensitive case is well handled while the attraction between them adds another level of intrigue.
There are plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader interested and the plot is intelligently put together. My only 'niggle' would be how little time Gabriel Crowther spends in the story. I found the novel generally better when Crowther and Westerman were kept together. Having said that; I'd happily read more in this series.