Sunday, June 3, 2012

[TSS] Musings: Instruments of Darkness

Instruments of Darkness
Instruments of Darkness is the first book in Imogen Robertson's mystery series set in 1780s England.  One morning, Mrs. Harriet Westerman comes across a dead body on her property.  She immediately notifies one of her neighbors, Mr. Crowther, a recluse well known for his scientific studies and papers.  They find a signet ring on the corpse that matches the coat of arms of the Earl of Thornleigh, the most prominent landholder in the region.  Could the body be that of the long-missing heir?  And if not, how is the dead man involved in all the dark doings of Thornleigh Hall?

If you've been reading this blog for some time, you know that I am basically obsessed with Georgian era Britain.  I've branched out a bit in my reading in recent years, but the long 18th century in England is still the one that I am most comfortable with as a setting and the setting for which I am most likely to make an impulse buy.  It seems like these days, historical mysteries are a dime a dozen, particularly those set in this general time period.  So I'm not sure why a blurb review drew me to this series over all the others.  But I'm so glad that it did.

I rarely read a mystery novel for the mystery itself.  I realize this is odd, but I have always been much more drawn to the characters than to the mystery.  The characters that populate this book are wonderfully real.  I am particularly intrigued by Harriet Westerman and am looking forward to knowing her better as the series continues.  Harriet is very happily married to a successful Navy man.  She used to accompany him on his ship on travels around the world, but when she had her first child, they both decided that it would be best for her to stay on firm soil to raise him.  But Harriet does not want to be a society wife and mother, and you can see how this frustrates her.

I loved Robertson for creating a woman like Harriet.  She is highly intelligent, fiercely loyal, and fairly naive in the way she approaches the world.  In the partnership that forms between her and Mr. Crowther, she is a full partner who does just as much dirty work and makes as many deductions as her scientist friend.  But I mostly appreciated Harriet because I think she is probably quite representative of women at the time.  She loves her husband and adores her children, but she feels limited and constrained:
Happily or unhappily, you have only one decision to make in your life and your whole life hangs on it.  The weight of the thought had left her breathless...she pretended to sleep, looking out over her gardens from her bedroom window, though of course, like everything she wore or ate, the horse she rode or the pen she used to write up the accounts, it all belonged to her husband.  She lived on sufferance, like every prettily dressed lady in the world. 
This and other sections like it in the book really made me feel for Harriet.  She struggles against the life she is forced to lead even as she enjoys the comforts and the security that it gives her.  It makes her a very realistic character, and I look forward to the opportunity to see her interact with her husband if he makes an appearance in later books.

And that was another thing I really loved about this book.  Though this detective team is comprised of a man and a woman, there is no romance there at all.  Mr. Crowther is not interested in Harriet, and Harriet obviously cares deeply for her husband.  What comes to exist between them is a deep and lasting friendship.  I am so grateful for Robertson for not putting Harriet at the center of some love triangle, for not falling into the trap of creating sexual tension in all relationships.  There is beauty and warmth and kindness in platonic love, too, and I am glad that it was acknowledged here.

I haven't talked much at all about the plot of this book or the other characters.  I had difficulty at first getting into the rhythm of the book because there were three stories woven together.  It was a bit jarring for me at first to go from one scene to another, especially because they all involved completely different sets of characters.  But they eventually come together and I got the hang of it.  While I don't love that style of writing, it seems like Robertson keeps up the multiple story lines in subsequent mysteries, too.  And my dislike of the style won't keep me from reading further in the series.  I'm very excited to spend more time with Westerman and Crowther and get to know them better as they go sleuthing over the English countryside.

23 comments:

  1. I hope you enjoy further additions to the series. It's always nice when you love the characters, though. :)

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    1. Very true- I have the second book out from the library, so I can at least read that one :-)

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  2. I am more intrigued by the characters in a story than anything else. And I do appreciate what you've said about the man/woman friendship. It is definitely a plus that the predictable love triangle is missing from this story.

    Lately I'm so bored by the inevitable love triangles...

    Enjoy your reading!

    Here's MY SUNDAY SALON POST

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    1. Yes, the love triangles really get very exhausting and repetitive.

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  3. yay for the lack of romance! I mean, not that romance is inherently bad, but not every story with a man and a woman needs to be a love story. This sounds like such an interesting series in so many different ways.

    PS: I'm so excited that you're reading Tooth and Claw! Can't wait to hear what you think.

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    1. I'm really enjoying Tooth & Claw so far! I love Walton's writing, and dragons make Victoriana so much cooler!

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  4. That's cool that the husband takes a backseat but is still obviously important to Harriet.

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    1. Yes, and I think the two probably have heated disagreements about her role in life now, even while respecting and caring for each other. I hope he comes into the series soon!

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  5. Huh. The cover would have completely put me off this book but your review makes it sound fantastic. I'm always on the lookout for a strong female lead character.

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    1. I completely understand that ;-) But the character really is great and I think she'll be developed in a really interesting way as the series progresses.

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  6. Thanks. That sounds worth tracking the book down.

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  7. I am glad that your dislike for the style still made you want more. So there must be something there

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    1. Yes, I get easily confused with multiple story lines, but this was interesting enough to keep me going. Though I do think the story could have been a little shorter without any damage done :-)

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  8. I'm often drawn to mystery novels for the characters or the setting rather than for the mystery itself! Harriet sounds like a great character and I'm looking forward to meeting her when I get around to reading this series.

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    1. Yes, I didn't mention it above, but Robertson does a great compare-contrast of Harriet vs. her more traditional younger sister, and I will enjoy seeing how that plays out in future, too.

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  9. I think I have you to blame for my recent Regency mystery kick, which has resulted in my getting an ARC of a really not-great book. But I loved Sarah Tolerance so much I wanted more! Glad to see this rec.

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    1. Yes, Sarah Tolerance is WONDERFUL! I'm glad you liked her, too.

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  10. This sounds very good, and having read Victorian mysteries I wouldn't mind going a step further back. The description you've provided is very appealing and I love the no-love triangle idea, very fresh. Are these new books or is the series already available?

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    1. The series is available I think up to book four now. So new to me, but not new overall :-)

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  11. I'm glad I'm not the only one who doesn't read mysteries just for the mystery. I've had my eye on this one for a while now and I think book 3 is already published. Must get to it soonish. And yes, most sleuthing duos of the opposite sex end up together so this makes a change!

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    1. Yes, it's so refreshing! I've got book 2 out from the library, so am looking forward to getting my hands on that in the coming weeks!

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  12. This sounds well worth a read! I don't have the best of luck w most of the mystery series I try, but I'll cross my fingers for this one. :D (Also, Y.S. Lee's 3rd book is out! Yay!)

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