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on 11 September 2001
I picked this up in the airport and spent my holiday engrossed in the political intrigues and revolutionary fervour of London in 1795. An Astronomy spy thriller littered with prostitutes and murders - what more could you ask for? I recommend this book as a thoroughly absorbing and intelligent read.
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on 4 July 2007
I am professionally trained in astrophysics, and my current research area is the history of astronomy in the twentieth century. The astronomy cannot be faulted in this rich narrative. The search for the "lost planet" is real enough. After Herschel discovered Uranus on 13 March 1781, observational astronomers launched the quest to find a new planet between Mars and Jupiter. These "Celestial Police" as they styled themselves started a twenty year quest that ended on the very first night of the nineteenth century when the first asteroid was discovered.

The author succeeds admirably in re-creating the life and times of London in 1795. The detail is impressively researched (for example, the precise way in which London-based savants could use the postal service at the Royal Society to communicate with their counter parts in enemy France).

It is true that too much is revealed too early for this to be a true "murder mystery". For example, it was too obvious that one of the telescopes was stuffed with gold. Some chance encounters (the finding of the lost telescope) are too contrived -- or not contrived enough! -- for my taste. But none of that distracts from a delightful historical novel in which the scientific material is handled faultlessly. No Full Moons rise at midnight (as they do in so many novels) in this gem.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 18 August 2007
Set at the end of the C18th, this is a superior historical thriller set around a group of astronomers searching passionately for a 'lost' planet. This plot intertwines with a more modern 'serial murderer' plot (the killing of red-haired prostitutes was a little trite, but forgiveable), and a spy story about French Republican spies in England post-Revolution.

Unlike a couple of reviewers here, I found this an enthralling story (though it's a holiday/thriller/commute read, not serious literature) that twists with lots of plot development.

Ok the characters are fairly standard, but then this is a plot-driven novel rather than a character-driven one so that was fine with me. Intelligently written and with a real feel for the astronomy which added an almost poetic layer to the mix, I loved this.
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on 6 December 2002
Hitorical fiction is a genre with a few gems and a lot of dross. What characterises the bad books is bad research and, often, gross historical inaccuracy. What characterises the good books is historic fidelity. Of course, the great books have a cracking story too. This, in my view, is a great book. The plot twists and turns - with the themes of treachery, spying, murder and astronomy set against the backdrop of England in the aftermath of the French Revolution. The characterisations are exceptionally strong and it is easy to develop a strong identity with each of the main players - albeit that they range from the mad to the bad to the sad.
This is a tale of people following their consciences or personal quests who are manipulated by cynical puppetmasters. If there is one criticism, albeit a moderate one, it is the dialogue. It is very 20th/21st Century - and it leads one to look at the situations in the book from a relatively modern perspective. This does not spoil the read as an experience (maybe it knocks one of the points off the 5 star rating). What is clear is that the author has put a phenomenal amount of effort into getting this book just right and she has succeeded in doing so with distinction. I can't wait to see what comes from her pen next.
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on 2 December 2002
For England, 1795 was something of an annus horribilis. With defeat in the Low Countries, sedition in the naval yards and republican sympathisers thickening the mix, Redfern sets this tale of murder, betrayal and obsession against a dark screen of national fear, uncertainty and introspection.
The protagonists journey through a maze of bluff and counter measure to get to a single, concluding centre, propelled (some towards disaster) by their respective obsessions: Jonathon Absey subordinates the search for a killer on London's streets to his quest to find the killer of his own daughter; Guy de Montpellier erodes mentally and physically, scouring the night sky for a lost planet he believes he once saw; Pierre Raultier jeopardises his own life for the unrelenting pull of a hopeless love. It is obsession, and loss through obsession, that brings these people together, full tilt into the boiling pot of war, politics and espionage that polarised republican France and royalist England.
The author renders a London of mud, blood and danger, a depiction that supports the hardship, tragedy and hopelessness that marks the lives of everyone in it. The superbly detailed - and diverting - astronomical references offer some light to those observers keen to forget more 'grounded' troubles (most of Redfern's characters have at least a cursory knowledge of the stars).
Though the narrative muddies a little at times and the denouement is rather abrupt, "The Music of the Spheres" is a must-buy for anyone keen to add to their existing stock of historical fiction.
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on 26 May 2010
One of this book's primary strengths is the meticulous historical research on London life and eighteenth-century astronomy, all of which is skilfully woven into the plot. The grimy, seamy side of London in 1795 is vividly depicted, primarily through the eyes of Jonathan Absey, a Home Office employee investigating a string of murders among the city's prostitutes. Interwoven with this narrative are the endeavours of a company of astronomers to find the 'lost' planet, and the illicit trading of information with revolutionary France.

This is a dark tale, populated with fascinating characters who are all broken, desperate, obsessive. Absey's search for the murderer is driven by his need to find his daughter's killer, while his gentle brother Alexander is permanently damaged by eighteenth-century England's intolerance for sexual deviancy. Guy de Montpellier is dying, desperate to find the lost planet before his illness destroys him; his sister Auguste, always at his side, is dangerously alluring and destructive. Sometimes this penchant for the darkest of portrayals is taken too far, and descends into gratuitous misery: for example, Daniel's sole purpose seems to be to serve as a victim of a rather random variety of sexual misdemeanours, and the brutal denouement, while undeniably dramatic, is perhaps excessive. Taken as a whole, however, this image of London life near the turn of the nineteenth century is absorbing, a gripping thriller, and full of diverting historical detail.
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on 11 August 2001
Remembered for his readings of numerous audio books, including the Dune books and Morgan's Run, talented stage and screen actor Tim Curry seems to be ubiquitous as he makes simultaneous appearances in various venues. His energy level appears to be as high as is his unique ability to give voice to the sinister and enhance suspense.
Such is the case in his rendering of Elizabeth Redfern's enthralling and atmospheric debut novel which takes place in 1795 London. There's espionage and evil walking the shadowy streets of that city as England is at war with France. Jonathan Absey of the Home Office is charged with tracking down spies. He attempts to soldier on but he is also consumed by the still unsolved murder of his 15-year-old daughter. There have been a number of killings - all young red haired ladies of the night.
As Absey seeks a murderer he comes upon a strange band of astronomers, the Company of Titius. This group is looking for a star. Is their search intertwined with Absey's investigation?
Elizabeth Redfern shows great promise as a writer, smoothly blending history and a breakneck thriller plot. Tim Curry excels in his reading.
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on 11 October 2002
Although I admired the author's intricate plotting of the political background to this story, I was disappointed with the murder mystery aspect of it as I had more or less unravelled who the murderer was three or four chapters in, the author just gave away too many clues. For this reason, I would disagree with reviewers who say it "keeps you guessing until the end". Both the historical setting and details on astronomy are quite fascinating, you really get a tangible feel for what it was like for ordinary people living in London in 1795, the sheer bleakness, filth and smell of the place. I like books in which you can learn about lesser well known points in history and this is defintely one of those. If you are looking for an interesting read which doesn't romanticize the past, this is the one for you.
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on 20 November 2002
For England, 1795 was something of an annus horribilis. With defeat in the Low Countries, sedition in the naval yards and republican sympathisers thickening the mix, Redfern sets this tale of murder, betrayal and obsession against a dark screen of national fear, uncertainty and introspection.
The protagonists journey through a maze of bluff and counter measure to get to a single, concluding centre, propelled (some towards disaster) by their respective obsessions: Jonathon Absey subordinates the search for a killer on London's streets to his quest to find the killer of his own daughter; Guy de Montpellier erodes mentally and physically, scouring the night sky for a lost planet he believes he once saw; Pierre Raultier jeopardises his own life for the unrelenting pull of a hopeless love. It is obsession, and loss through obsession, that brings these people together, full tilt into the boiling pot of war, politics and espionage that polarised republican France and royalist England.
The author renders a London of mud, blood and danger, a depiction that supports the hardship, tragedy and hopelessness that marks the lives of everyone in it. The superbly detailed - and diverting - astronomical references offer some light to those observers keen to forget more 'grounded' troubles (most of Redfern's characters have at least a cursory knowledge of the stars).
Though the narrative muddies a little at times and the denouement is rather abrupt, "The Music of the Spheres" is a must-buy for anyone keen to add to their existing stock of historical fiction.
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on 12 July 2015
Gripping! Best book I've read in a while.
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