Daily Archives: March 7, 2011

Murder and Moral Dissection

In case you don’t read the New York Times Book Reviews (which you should, I should, we all should!), here’s me clueing you in on novel involving “a forbidding country estate and the unlikely forensic duo who set out to uncover its deadly secrets.”  I like the NY Times’ snappy tagline better–CSI: Georgian England–but the book description is pretty deuced appealing:

 “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. . .”

One reviewer on Goodreads described it as:

“Jane Austen fans will quickly associate Harriet Westerman with Mrs. Croft, the captain’s wife from “Persuasion.” She has traveled, seen war, is outspoken and not to be put off.  Her younger sister, Rachel Trench, is “Jane Eyre,” in her attraction to the war-wounded Hugh Thornleigh, younger brother of the missing Alexander and the Mr. Rochester of our story. Gabriel Crowther is a scientist, and something of a recluse until being pulled into the investigation by Harriet and his own curious mind.”  

Sounds like there’s a bit of a romance plot tucked away amid murder and mayhem, but frankly any 18th century novel sparks my interest.  As far as I’m concerned, they’re far and a few between for a century teetering on social unrest, scintillatings scandals, and the last hurrah of the landed English aristocrats.

Historical Basis

Of particular interest in Instruments of Darkness is Robertson’s decision to frame the novel around the Gordon Riots, which on the night of June 2, 1780 were the spectacularly violent culmination of anti-catholic sentiments stirred by the Papists acts of 1788 (i.e. on wiki: an imposed oath, “which besides a declaration of loyalty to the reigning sovereign, contained an abjuration of the Pretender, and of certain doctrines attributed to Catholics, as that excommunicated princes may lawfully be murdered, that no faith should be kept with heretics, and that the Pope has temporal as well as spiritual jurisdiction in Britain.”  

Here’s five reasons why Instruments of Darkness is worth your time:

  • Reminiscent of Austen and Bronte?  Sold!  Based upon the myriad incarnations of Mr. Darcy (Vampire, Sultan, Leprechaun Slayer) and the endless Jane Eyre movies, you’re curious how underappreciated characters might be reimagined.
  • Dickens tackled the Gordon Riots in Barnaby Rudge and you, literary aficionado, want to see how Robertson stacks up.
  • Did you miss the CSI: Georgian England part?
  • You love a strong heroine–Harriet Westerman, the willful mistress. . . 
  • You read Tess Gerritsen or Anne Perry, the cross of which (as suggested) gives us Imogen Robertson.

I need your help!  I’m thinking of creating of two 18th century reading compendiums for this site, one including novels actually dating from the period and the other compiling historicals occuring during the period.  If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments and I will thank you ever so much.