Title: The Anatomy of Ghosts
Publisher: Michael Joseph
Hardback: 469 pages
Publication Date: 02/09/2010
Andrew Taylor’s first novel since winning the 2009 CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger shows exactly why he is considered one of historical crime fiction’s foremost practitioners.
The year is 1786, Jerusalem College Cambridge: the morning after the elitist and secretive Holy Ghost Club’s latest debauched meeting, the body of Mrs Whichcote is found drowned in the College pond. When young Frank Oldershaw subsequently goes mad after apparently seeing the ghost of the dead woman, his mother Lady Anne Oldershaw sends renowned sceptic John Holdsworth to investigate and restore her son’s health and reputation. Holdsworth has gained ‘renown’ for authoring The Anatomy of Ghosts – a rejection of ghosts as mere delusions [making him a sort of 18th century Derren Brown] – but is himself haunted by the memory of his dead wife and son.
The Cambridge that Taylor has constructed in The Anatomy of Ghosts is a place of vast inequality, where the privileged run rough-shod over their servants and less fortunate, and where the tutors seem to be more interested in themselves and squeezing money out of their charges than in imparting knowledge [quite frankly there appeared to be almost no work or teaching – and people say that students nowadays have it easy!]. With selfishness and self-advancement the order of the day, and backstabbing and skulduggery rife, it is no surprise that few of the characters are particularly likeable, but it makes for a potent and eminently readable mixture.
Taylor’s experience as an author is evident in the manner in which he makes a fairly hefty hardback [which certainly weighs a damn sight more than the anatomy of most ghosts] a page-turner that I finished in only a couple of days. And the bibliophile in me fell in love with the gorgeously understated cover [which has no doubt been influenced by the cover for Sarah Waters’s The Little Stranger] and the detailing that the publisher has put into the book [if you get a chance then have a look at the prelims page to see what I mean]. Blending gothic, ghost and detective narratives this is a rip-roaring read.