It’s November 1781. The Thames River is running high, yet two London ferrymen still manage to witness the grim tableau of a body bobbing in the midst of the muddy current. Finally hauled to shore, the sodden corpse is identified as a musician by the name of Fitzraven.
“Here is Fitzraven, a deeply unpleasant character, possibly a traitor, who abandoned his daughter then found her again when there was profit in it; who has managed, we know not how, to continue his employment at His Majesty’s Theatre despite being disliked there…”
"Imogen Robertson has a knack for setting the mood in olde England, and a feel for the language of the street and the language of lords and ladies."
Soon enough, Gabriel Crowther (who we first met in INSTRUMENTS OF DARKNESS) is summoned to determine the cause of death, since his peculiar interest tends toward physical forensics. Cutting into bodies fascinates and educates him. Not being a man of great communication skills, however, Crowther enlists the aid of Harriet Westerman, a highly unconventional woman, especially for her time. She scoffs at the proper female pursuits such as handiwork and needlecraft, preferring instead to unravel grisly mysteries, much to the chagrin of her younger, more suitable sister.
Now in London, Mrs. Westerman has been away from her Caveley estate in order to be closer to her convalescing husband, Captain James Westerman. There’s a war going on. Captain Westerman’s command ended after a bloody battle with a French frigate, which left him injured and mentally depleted. It has become obvious that someone --- or maybe several someones --- has been smuggling information to the enemies of the English. Might Fitzraven’s death have anything to do with national security? It seems like a far-fetched idea, but stranger things have been known to happen. It’s bound to be immensely profitable, but selling secrets to the other side can lead to a very nasty death sentence.
There’s no shortage of suspects, in His Majesty’s Theatre alone. And every interview reveals another avenue to explore. As Crowther and Westerman work to unmask Fitzraven’s killer, in another part of London, a fortune teller called Jocasta Bligh has read disaster in the cards. As she realizes things have gone horribly wrong, she finds herself on the trail of another killer. Are the streets simply teeming with killers, or is there a connection?
Crowther and Westerman make an odd duo. They hardly could be much more opposite. Which may be what makes them so perfect for sleuthing together. They bicker, they squabble, but they ultimately come to the solution.
While the plot line is not quite as rich as in INSTRUMENTS OF DARKNESS, the book’s complexity lies in the period details. Imogen Robertson has a knack for setting the mood in olde England, and a feel for the language of the street and the language of lords and ladies. You might need to keep a chart of who’s who, though, as there are closing in on three-dozen characters causing all sorts of mayhem and trouble.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on February 16, 2012