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4.2 out of 5 stars
44
4.2 out of 5 stars
The Anatomy of Ghosts
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VINE VOICEon 17 May 2011
Mr Hollingsworth has suffered afew unfortunate events, namely the loss of both his son & wife as well as the loss of his livelihood. He accepts an invitation from a wealthy old lady to travel to Jerusalem College, Cambridge and investigate her son's sudden mental decline supposedly a result of his having seen seeing a ghost. Once there he meets a cast of unique characters all invariably acting in their own self-interest which only serves to complicate matters further.
I had hoped this book would be a good ghost story, complete with spooky goings-on and veiled women floating down old corridors but I was to be disappointed. Ultimately the book reads more like a `Whodunit' that ends with the slightly flat revelation of who the killer is. That said, the characters are well drawn and I was quite impressed by the dialogue, it can't be easy to recreate the rhetoric of 200 years ago but Taylor succeeds. I also loved the love story between Hollingsworth and the Master's wife and this is despite my normally loathing love stories. It was very deftly done with some truly delicate scenes between the two characters beautifully drawn.
Overall a decent work of fiction that's main highlight for me was the exhibition of the snobbery of young rich men and the struggle not to mention servitude of their poor fellow students.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 25 June 2011
Cambridge University 1786, Jerusalem College in particular, and a long, hard look at the hedonistic lifestyle of mostly over privileged male students who seem to do anything but study.

Not everyone at the university is wealthy. Some of the students, boys on a scholarship, alongside college lecturers survive on a pittance. This impoverished group are further stressed by bullying and class discrimination handed down from the 'higher echelons'.

Into this mix of over indulgence, poverty and eccentricity arrives the character of John Holdsworth a man recently widowed and now on a mission to find and help one of the students, Frank, member of the 'Holy Ghost Club' and son of an aristocratic family. What emerges from here is a story of ghosts, murder and general 'shenanigans' amongst the university population. Is there a female spectre haunting the university?. If so then why?. That's all part of the mystery and the revelations are slowly and satisfyingly worked into the plot.

None of these characters are particularly likeable with most of them out for little more than self indulgence and self promotion. Their university life, due to the era, is almost entirely male and one dimensional. Women are either mothers, wives, employers or ghosts!. A mentally frail boy and his widowed minder have a puzzle to solve before either is fully recovered. Maybe it's too late?.

I enjoyed this book. The historical background is believable. Moments of dark creepiness built a sense of tension which kept me hooked.
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VINE VOICEon 2 September 2010
Not the obvious ghost thriller but more a tale of hauntings that have more impact than bumps in the night. This sophisticated feel to the story gives credit to Andrew Taylor's new novel The Anatomy of Ghosts.

It is the sighting of Lady Whichcote, recently drowned in the grounds of Jerusalem College, Cambridge, which sends Frank Oldershaw into the asylum. Desperate to salvage her son's reputation, Lady Anne Oldershaw hires the services of John Holdsworth, author of a book discrediting the spirit world, to make sense of the matter. When Holdsworth discovers there is more to Sylvia Whichcote's death and that she is not the only young lady to die upon College Grounds, the mystery unravels. The realisation that it is not just the physical sighting of ghosts that can haunt the human soul is a lesson learned by both men.

Taylor creates the perfect backdrop to this haunting tale in the confined colleges of 18th Century Cambridge. As we follow the character's movements around the streets and waterways, a world of secrets, power struggles and the darker side of privileged life emerges. The language, the characters the setting all add to the mood of the novel making it not only an entertaining read but will grip you in suspense throughout.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 26 December 2015
This was a book that offered a great deal but I don't think it quite came up to scratch. The story is set in 18th century Cambridge at Jerusalem College. The base for the story is that a wealthy young student has "gone mad" after seeing a ghost & John Holdsworth has been employed to prove that there was no ghost.
The setting for the story is excellent. Andrew Taylor is a skilled writer & describes the setting in this period of history quite wonderfully. I could easily imagine the sights & smells that he was describing - particularly the night-soil man!I got a good impression of the atmosphere in the college & the way that it was run; the heirarchy, the favourtism & nepotism. Though I did get a little confused about the levels of student but that was quite immaterial. The class system came through well in both the college & the "real" world. The patronage of wealthy benefactors for both the college & individuals could be felt in the story without being explained in unnecessary detail.
The characters in the book were reasonably well defined though none had very strong personalities. Holdsworth was not as strong a character as I would expect from the main character in a book. He was slightly disturbed by the dreams of his wife & son but this didn't really come across to me as much as I think the author intended. The main characters in the college - Richardson & Carbery had the makings of good personalities but I felt they fell slightly short.
The actual story was good as far as it went. The feeling of a building up of suspense just didn't work for me. I didn't get the feeling that the whole book was building up to some big revelation. I also didn't get the feeling of apprehension when things happened to the characters. I just hadn't really got into this book. I had no problem putting this book down. It wasn't a book that I felt the need to try to read at every opportunity as some others are. I ambled along through the story but there was no sense of urgency to see what happened next. In one way it was a good thing that I wasn't rushing to discover the ending as I felt it was a bit of "a damp squib". There was no great revelation or dynamic ending. Although the loose ends had been tied up & the original question solved there was no great conclusion to this book. I was slightly disappointed really.
I must say that there are a couple of great small scenes in this book. You could almost say that they are "one liners". These did make me smile.
All in all it was a well written book with a good story but, for me, it just didn't go beyond that. It wasn't special. Having read reviews of this book elsewhere, there are people who did get the feeling of suspense & flow but I didn't. Maybe you will....
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on 5 April 2017
The opening was so sad, I nearly gave up, but decided to keep going and pleased that I did. I liked this a lot and really just agree with the other good reviews. Good writing, very engaged with the characters, I would rather like to meet the hero again. The nittiest of nit picking - no one would leave the driving seat of a carriage without either someone holding the reins or at the horse's head - potential carnage with a runaway horse. (The person driving goes to knock on a door, with the passengers still in the carriage). And I'm afraid I didn't fully understand Richenda - I think I will have to re-read this bit, but I am obviously in a minority.

There are some "unexplained" sightings, so although not a full blown ghost story, there is still an air of mystery about shadowy figures ............
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VINE VOICEon 4 March 2011
I won't re-tell the story; others have done that, but I will say that I started this novel on Monday evening, had to be prised away from it that night and the next, and stayed up until 1 am to finish it on Wednesday. Like all of Andrew Taylor's work, this is a masterpiece of delightful, lyrical language; crisp, perfect dialogue that rings with the particular cadences of the time; an insight in the Cambridge collegiate system that is little short of breathtaking... and all wrapped up in a story that twists and turns with every other page. It feels like a ride down the Cam, but one far more gripping than any I have taken. It's gorgeous: Read it...
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VINE VOICEon 18 March 2014
Andrew Taylor is clearly a master practitioner of historical/crime/mystery novels based on The Anatomy of Ghosts. Not often given to reading period fiction like this, I found myself drawn into the meticulously crafted feel of the times, and the langauge and narrative was of a very high standard and maintained throughout to keep the pages turning.

As other reviewers have commented, branding this as a ghost story is rather misleading, as the book is more a story of loss, grief, unspoken passions and underhand doings at the fictional Jerusalem College in Cambridge in the late eighteenth century. Right to the end the mood and mystery of the story is maintained beautifully, and only at the very end does it feel slightly unsatisfactory as a conclusion.

However, an engrossing page-turner crafted with intelligence and a lightness of touch that means the sense of period never overwhelms either the reader or the story. Will certainly be reading more from Andrew Taylor.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 2 May 2011
After the drowning death of their son Georgie, John and Maria Holdsworth reacted in very different ways, Maria spent all of her time with a woman who claimed that she was in contact with Georgie's spirit, while John wrote `The Anatomy of Ghosts' - his account of why ghosts are delusion. When finances become constrained the Holdsworths need to move from the house in which they'd lived with their son. Maria refuses, and the next day she too is found dead in the Thames.

John Holdsworth is bewildered and broke, and haunted by his own ghosts. Lady Anne Oldershaw, familiar with his book, offers him employment. While part of the employment relates to organizing her late husband's library, she also believes that he may be able to help her son Frank. Frank, a student at Jerusalem College in Cambridge seems to have lost his mind. Frank believes that he has seen the ghost of Sylvia Whichcote, a friend's wife, and Lady Anne wants John Holdsworth to demonstrate to Frank that it was either a delusion or a hoax. She believes that this will restore Frank's sanity.

Cambridge, in 1786, is a claustrophobic place, and Jerusalem College has its own secrets. Frank was being initiated into Jerusalem's hellfire society, the Holy Ghost Club as the novel opens and the mystery surrounding this club makes it difficult for John Holdsworth to find out what really happened. Finding out how and why Sylvia Whichcote drowned leads John Holdsworth on an interesting, and dramatic, journey of discovery. Few people are who they seem to be, and the class structure - so painstakingly drawn - seems to be a barrier to discovering the truth. But John Holdsworth is nothing if not persistent and if he can't unravel the truth about the death of Sylvia Whichcote, perhaps he needs to reconsider the possible existence of ghosts.

I enjoyed this novel: the fact that John Holdsworth is an outsider to Cambridge meant that we learned about the arcana and inner workings of eighteenth century English university life as he did. It may slow the pace of the story down a little, but it certainly enriches it.

`I am not the only one who sees ghosts.'

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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#1 HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERon 2 January 2011
I thought this was an outstandingly good book. Rather to my shame I hadn't come across Andrew Taylor before and picked this up because it was recommended on Radio 4 as one of the best crime novels of 2010. They were right, and I will certainly be reading more of Andrew Taylor's books.

The plot has been well summarised in other reviews here so I won't go into it again, but it is involving, exciting and very well paced. I found that for at least the last couple of hundred pages I was completely gripped and very grumpy about anything which interrupted my reading. The characters are well drawn and I found the whole premise of the book interesting and psychologically perceptive. Taylor's writing is really good - unaffected, literate and a pleasure to read. He conjures the late 18th Century period excellently with the use of very authentic dialogue and modern narration with the occasional period phrase - "the carriage slowed to a footpace," for example - which is very effective. The writing reminded me a little of Patrick O'Brian, which is very high praise indeed.

In short, this is a beautifully written, convincingly set and gripping crime novel which is far more than just a thriller. It's a real find for me and I recommend it wholeheartedly.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 23 November 2010
I enjoyed this, a good, well put together detective story (despite the spooky setting) set in a Cambridge college in the 1780s. John Holdsworth, the "detective" is employed by a concerned mother to investigate her son's mental state after he claims to have seen the ghost of a woman who was drowned in a college pond. Holdsowrth has his own reasons to reject the supernatural, and makes an effective investigator: soon, all Jerusalem College's dirty little secrets (and some dirty great big ones) begin to emerge. Even if Holdsworth gets to the bottom of it all, can he handle what he finds?

Taylor is good at evoking the college, with its intricate hierarchy and knife edge politics and (especially) at painting distinctive characters, and this book is never less than entertaining. However I was less convinced by some of the characters' motivations, especially those of Frank Oldershaw, the undergraduate and focus of the book, who sees the ghost, and slightly disappointed by the ending. And for college politics I would recommend The Masters (Strangers and Brothers) or The Affair (A strangers & brothers novel) - though if you like ghosts, deaths and Gothick atmosphere, they won't do the trick as well as this does.

I'd give this 3.5 stars if I could, it's a good read, well research and plotted and moves at a decent pace. But I couldn't quite believe some of the characters.
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