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Instruments of Darkness: A Novel by Imogen…
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Instruments of Darkness: A Novel (original 2009; edition 2011)

by Imogen Robertson

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3582730,413 (3.69)35
Member:ludmillalotaria
Title:Instruments of Darkness: A Novel
Authors:Imogen Robertson
Info:Penguin (2011), Kindle Edition, 386 pages
Collections:Your library, eText
Rating:***
Tags:Fiction, Historical Mystery, England, Georgian, 18th Century, 1774-1780, eBook, Kindle, 2012 Read

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Instruments of Darkness by Imogen Robertson (2009)

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Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
I really like this investigative pair! Harriet Westetman, the wife of a ship captain who is absent, and the inquisitive, quirky Mr. Crowther. Set in the1700s, the two protagonusts use their wits and varied life experiences to bolster one another in a murder investigation. The story has interesting intrigue and engaging characters. I will definitely read the next installment of this series. ( )
  hemlokgang | Apr 9, 2014 |
The time is 1780 in a small village outside of London. The wife of a local landed gentry (literally landed - he is a naval commodore) finds a body on her land with its throat cut. She turns to the local recluse, who has an interest in cutting up dead bodies, for help. And off they go, delving into local politics and the hidden past to figure out who was murdered and why. A few more murders and a couple of plot twists later, they of course succeed, but the journey to the solution is a worthwhile one.

This was fun for many reasons. First, the style is appropriate to the setting - relaxed and giving a flavor of the writing of the time. Second, the characters are fun, if perhaps a tad too modern. Mrs. Westerman, our heroine, is an independent, no-nonsense, competent woman. Crowther, our hero, is somewhat Darcy-like though much less prideful (or is he the prejudiced one?). Other woman are probably a little more independent than the times might find appropriate, but that's OK with me. Third, the history is good. The American Revolution plays an important role in the story and is well painted (from the British side), and the time in England is well described (there are anti-papist riots going on in London, for instance). Both events are portrayed accurately (I assume - I know it's true for the American events and assume it's true of the British events too), yet realistically. Fourth, it's fresh. One of the wonderful things about Mrs. Westerman and Crowther's partnership is that there is no romantic interest at all. They respect each other and end up trusting each other, but she is happily married (though her husband is away) and he shows no interest in crossing that boundary. For some reason, it just seems so very grown up that, in a novel, two people of opposite sex can actually be friends but not lovers.

Not to worry though. There are other romantic possibilities. The other half of the story takes place in London with a different cast of characters. Their story, is of course, related (I'm not giving away any spoilers - the relationship is obvious early on) and there are the possibilities of love and family there, though also tragedy.

A lovely book. There are a couple of more in the series and I will probably go find them, though with a little hesitation: I don't think this was meant to be the first of a series, and I worry that follow-ups will therefore be disappointing. But I'll take the chance ... ( )
  scvlad | Apr 8, 2014 |
Harriet Westerman, a young gentlewoman living in the tranquil village of Hartswood in rural Sussex, discovers the body of a man on her lands, his throat cut. Rather than calling on the local constable, she addresses herself to Gabriel Crowther, a recluse and known anatomist, for help. As the body count rises, the two form a friendship and discover the reasons behind the murders.

Set in 1780, this is the first in a historical crime fiction series featuring the rather impulsive and unconventional Harriet Westerman and her partner in crime Gabriel Crowther, a gentleman with a secret past and the polar opposite to Harriet in character. Divided into six parts, each covering the span of a day, the plot is centred on the village of Hartswood where Harriet and Crowther live, London and Boston during the American Revolutionary War some five years previously. The prose is fluent and memorable in places, the atmosphere of time and place acute, but the great strength of this novel is its vivid portrayal of the characters, so much so that I felt I knew them as the novel progressed, and cared for them deeply. Even though some might criticise that the plot is too sedate in places (I don’t agree, there are three murders in three days), the author is clearly more concerned about characterisation than driving the action forward just for its own sake. (Saying that, the most memorable scenes detail the carnage after the Battle of Breed’s Hill near Charlestown and the chaos and confusion during the London riots as some of the protagonists have to cross the city to a place of refuge; the writing is incredibly tense in these places.) Here the consequences and repercussions after a violent crime has been committed ripple through the affected members of the family, friends and neighbours, and even the wider community, and Imogen Robertson makes it clear that some acts of violence are committed for personal gain, while others have a personal tragedy of their own at their heart. This is historical crime fiction at its best, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the second volume in the series, Anatomy of Murder. ( )
  passion4reading | Feb 27, 2014 |
I really do enjoy historical novels – especially when they get their historical facts correct (the Battle of Bunker Hill actually took place on Breed’s Hill, which Robertson correctly depicted). Even better, Instruments of Darkness does a commendable job portraying the nature of investigative “science” in the late 1700s, giving the story a truly authentic feel. The two primary characters of Crowther and Westerman were very interesting and highly nuanced, maybe a little too nuanced at times. Mrs. Westerman seemed to have a split personality as the story moved along.

The difficulty with Instruments of Darkness is how disjointed the story is, especially in the first half. It is difficult to navigate the many scenes and characters without resorting to taking notes. It made the novel feel like it was lurching along rather than each scene building towards the next. And the ending was a bit too tidy and melodramatic for my tastes.

While I enjoyed Instruments of Darkness for the atmosphere and attention to period detail, the writing and structure took away from the story. A solid whodunit, but not something that will have me running out to buy the next in the series.
  csayban | Dec 30, 2013 |
I normally tend to read mysteries set slightly later (say, Victorian through pre-WWII), so I like the change of pace. The characters are well fleshed-out and interesting in themselves, not just as aids to move the story along.

I have three quibbles so far, two technical and one more substantive. First - the book flips back and forth between different stories, two in 1780 and one a few years earlier. The way it's structured on the page is what looks like two em-dash between two line breaks. There's just not physical separation on the page that I prefer when the multi-viewpoint technique is used. Obviously, it's not hard to tell what story you're in, but it would be easier if it was immediately visible. I've been slighly irritated at having to regroup so suddenly and return to another story.

The second is, I think, an editing issue. More than once, a character says or notices something in a way that makes you think "oh, he said something about this before and that's why he's mentioning it again." But then when you go back to find that reference, nothing was ever said - this is actually the first time it's noticed. It seems to me like this might be the result of items being edited out without being careful to make sure that it doesn't leave later items hanging. For example:

The older fellow that Graves had noticed had come to a halt, and watched the burning like a child whose favorite toy has been destroyed by some act of adult carelessness.
But there was no earlier mention of Graves noticing the fellow. Now, this isn't relevant to the story (at least so far as I can tell), but it is irritating and makes me wonder if it occurs in other places where it would have more impact.

The substantive issue is that although, as I said, the characters are well-drawn, there is occasionally a vagueness about something they do. By this I don't mean a kind of obvious confusion, like "why did Lassie suddenly maul Timmy? Lassie loved Timmy!" but rather, the kind where a character will say or do something that clearly makes perfect sense to the author, but as a reader I get the feeling that I've missed a step. I suspect that as complex as the characters are on paper, the author may have an even more complete picture in her mind that informs her writing but leaves me hanging a little.

Overall though - looking forward to finishing it and will definitely read more.

Edit: very pleased with the ending and the entire book. I've got the next one and will start it soon! ( )
  liz.mabry | Sep 11, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
It’s a sensitive melodrama, investing almost every character with a dark and sometimes unsavory past, its plot filled with signet rings, wills, adventuresses, concealed letters and dissection, all set against the pleasantly unpleasant background of the Gordon Riots, which prodded a mob of Protestant Londoners into an anti-Catholic frenzy. The climax, as might be expected, involves a chase across the ravaged city to ensure that justice is done to the wronged and that the wrongdoers get their comeuppance.
 
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Epigraph
Dedication
For the Family
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Gabriel Crowther opened his eyes.
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Book description
Haiku summary
Gabriel Crowther
And friend Mrs Westerman
Uncover murder.
(passion4reading)
Idyllic Sussex
Village becomes hotspot for
Multiple murders.
(passion4reading)
An anatomist
And an English sailor's wife
Track down a killer.
(scvlad)

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 067002242X, Hardcover)

An intricate historical page-turner about a forbidding country estate and the unlikely forensic duo who set out to uncover its deadly secrets.

In the year 1780, Harriet Westerman, the willful mistress of a country manor in Sussex, finds a dead man on her grounds with a ring bearing the crest of Thornleigh Hall in his pocket. Not one to be bound by convention or to shy away from adventure, she recruits a reclusive local anatomist named Gabriel Crowther to help her find the murderer, and historical suspense's newest investigative duo is born.

For years, Mrs. Westerman has sensed the menace of neighboring Thornleigh Hall, seat of the Earl of Sussex. It is the home of a once- great family that has been reduced to an ailing invalid, his whorish wife, and his alcoholic second son, a man haunted by his years spent as a redcoat in the Revolutionary War. The same day, Alexander Adams is slain by an unknown killer in his London music shop, leaving his children orphaned. His death will lead back to Sussex, and to an explosive secret that has already destroyed one family and threatens many others.

Instruments of Darkness combines the brooding atmosphere of Anne Perry with the complex, compelling detail of Tess Gerritsen, moving from drawing room to dissecting room, from coffee house to country inn. Mrs. Westerman and Mr. Crowther are both razor-sharp minds and their personalities breathe spirit into this gripping historical mystery.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:48:32 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Discovering a dead neighbor from a menacing local estate, the unconventional Mrs. Westerman of 1780 Sussex enlists a reclusive local anatomist to uncover the family's secrets, which include ties to the American Revolution and links to the murder of a music shop owner.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 5 descriptions

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