Lately, everything I desire to read is a series, and a suspense-filled historical mystery at that. I want that back story, the intimacy among characters, rich historical details, and a strange murder to be solved. Luckily for me, I found all those characteristics in Imogen Robertson’s CIRCLE OF SHADOWS.
Harriet Westerman is home at Caveley with her family attempting to forget the sorrowful events of the past few months. Hurtful rumors have plagued Westerman, and she has done her best to pretend none of it has bothered her. All she wants now is quiet, but when a letter arrives from her sister, Rachel, the peaceful home life for which Westerman longed evaporates. Rachel’s husband, Daniel Clode, has been accused of murder, and Rachel needs her help. Westerman calls for her close friend, Gabriel Crowther, who is just as bothered and dismayed by the news as Westerman. Crowther, a reclusive anatomist and Westerman’s partner in several investigations, accompanies her to Germany and the Duchy of Maulberg, a strange little court that prides itself on its opulence, but is a place they will need every observance of etiquette to remain safe.
"I’ve read previous books in the Westerman/Crowther series, and if you have as well, you’ll be happy to know that this one lives up to the others. While the setting is interesting, it’s also slightly creepy, the way a murder setting should be."
While traveling to Germany, Westerman and Crowther look over the facts of the case and find it all too strange to believe. Daniel had been found with the body of Lady Martesen, a favorite of the Duke of Maulberg, completely incoherent and bleeding from a cut on his wrist. The theory of the local district investigator is that Daniel felt remorse after killing Lady Martesen and tried to take his own life --- a theory that Westerman and Crowther adamantly don’t buy. Daniel remembers nothing of the evening, especially not the murder or how he even came to be in the room with the dead woman. Crowther, a man all too familiar with the details of murder from his anatomy work, knows that the woman wasn’t killed by Daniel; she was in fact drowned, a pronouncement that throws the entire investigation into upheaval upon their arrival.
Westerman and Crowther, along with their traveling companions, are quickly schooled in the court etiquette, which is rather more complex than what they’re used to in England. It will take every bit of decorum not to be thrown in jail with Daniel in the eccentric court, where asking questions seems to be a nonstarter.
Making the case even more dangerous is the appearance of a man Westerman hoped never to see again alive --- Manzerotti --- who ordered the death of her beloved husband. Manzerotti is a spy caught up in the same case as Westerman and Crowther, although no one but him knows the details. And he isn’t sharing.
The dynamic between Westerman and Crowther is what makes this series so successful for me. Westerman is outspoken and has no trouble saying what’s on her mind and acting on impulse --- an unusual trait for a woman of the 18th century. Crowther, on the other hand, would prefer to be alone with a corpse, shunning pretty much everyone but Westerman. Their relationship is odd but makes the cases in which they get involved so much more interesting for their personalities. The appearance of Manzerotti shakes Westerman’s rather stable emotions in this case, and while Crowther isn’t the most effusive of men, he is when it comes to protecting and helping Westerman --- or at least keeping weapons out of her sight when Manzerotti enters a room.
I’ve read previous books in the Westerman/Crowther series, and if you have as well, you’ll be happy to know that this one lives up to the others. While the setting is interesting, it’s also slightly creepy, the way a murder setting should be. If you’re a fan of Robertson and the series, CIRCLE OF SHADOWS is a good addition and one to be savored.
Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski on June 14, 2013