Monday, May 12, 2014

Eunuchs and Espionage at the Opera

Anatomy of Murder by Imogen Robertson
Anatomy of Murder, by Imogen Robertson, is the second book in the Crowther & Westerman mystery series set in Georgian England, following Instruments of Darkness.  I read the first book two years ago and do not remember much about it.  All I really know is that I enjoyed it and liked the idea of a platonic man/woman detective team in 18th century England.  So when I saw the second book at the library, I finally picked it up and got around to reading it.

The book picks up fairly soon after the last one ended.  Harriet Westerman's husband has returned to England, though he is not the same man he was when he left.  And then a body is found in the Thames, and all sorts of war secrets are at risk, and the government asks Harriet and her friend Crowther to get on the case.

This is the second book in a series that isn't very popular, so I am not sure how much to give away from the plot of the first book (which I hardly remember, anyway) or from this book.  Luckily, though, the mystery wasn't really the key for me here.  I was reading for the gender roles!

Imogen Robertson was pretty savvy in her setup of these mystery novels.  She has Mr. Crowther, a wealthy and eccentric gentleman that people don't really know but are willing to tolerate because he's rich and comes from an old family.  Then there's Mrs. Westerman, who is married to a naval hero.  However, Harriet Westerman's oddities are less acceptable because she's a woman; she's not meant to go running around town trying to find criminals.

Harriet has a younger sister, who is very proper, and a young son and daughter.  Her sister often disapproves of Harriet's actions and tells her so, pointing out that Harriet is making life a lot harder for her own family, particularly the females.  But none of these lives are as difficult as those lived by the poor people of London, whom Robertson introduces us to through a parallel story.  Thus, in one book, we are exposed to gender roles, class restrictions, and how family can both support and hinder you.

There's a lot going on in Anatomy of Murder, and at times it was a little difficult to follow and seemed to wander a bit.  I admit I lost interest in the whole murder plot about halfway through, mostly because there were so many layers and characters involved that I had trouble keeping everyone straight.

But I had no trouble remembering why I was so excited about this series in the first place, and I'm glad I picked this book up, even though it took me forever to actually start reading it, and then a pretty long time to finish it.  I am very excited to get to know Harriet Crowther better.  And as time goes on and she navigates her conflicting desires to be a good mother, be a valued sister, and still do what she most wants to do, I think her story will only become more compelling.  In this way, Harriet Westerman reminds me a lot of Lady Trent in A Natural History of Dragons, and I think readers who are excited to learn more about Lady Trent's life will enjoy being introduced to Harriet Westerman, too.


  1. See, now this is exactly the sort of book that's become a casualty of my determination to read more POC authors. It's a book that I'd like to read but I don't think I'd love (I read mysteries fairly rarely and am not thaaaaat crazy about them as a genre), and when I go to add it to my TBR list I think: But then you will have EVEN MORE WHITE AUTHORS on your list!, and I don't add it.

    Do you ever have that experience?

  2. Yes! I have that experience all the time. It can be really tough, I agree. I am sure there are many books by white authors that I do not read as quickly now because I want to read more diversely. And then I feel like I am missing out on ALL OF THE POPULAR BOOKS because I am reading ones that are not reviewed very often. But that is the point! And I guess you just kind of have to seesaw a bit because sometimes you just won't be as close to 50/50 (or 80/20 or whatever ratio) you want but hopefully you can course correct as you continue. After all, just being cognizant of the fact that you are not equal is important if it leads you to change behavior!

  3. Hard to say how I feel about one like this. Mysteries aren't really my thing but I do like the issues of class and gender it seems this series addresses.

  4. I go through phases with reading sometimes, and I took about a year to read mysteries that everyone told me were great. The best ones had a story in addition to the mystery, and that sounds like what you've found here. Still, the mystery should be what keeps you reading, it seems to me, not the other way around!

  5. I continue to so love your diverse reading interests! From Indian authors to Georgian England (just doing some major catch-up on the blog reader), you really do share my interest in varied voices. And anything with a fun story with deeper components, as there seems to be here, is extra enticing.


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