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Author: Imogen Robertson

Title: Island of Bones

Publisher: Headline

Hardback: 372 pages

ISBN: 978-0-7553-7202-7

Price: £19.99

Publication Date: 14/04/2011

I’m not sure about you, but when I’m feeling a bit bored I don’t tend to open up tombs! Apparently though, it was all the rage in 1780s Cumbria. At least it is in Imogen Robertson’s third Crowther and Westerman novel, Island of Bones. For it is during a ‘casual’ moment of inquisitive ‘tomb raiding’ of a grave which is supposed to house only the remains of the first Earl of Greta, that another – much more recent – corpse is discovered [and, by ‘recent’, I mean that it is only a few decades old, as opposed to the Earl’s centuries old skeleton]. It is enough of a mystery and an incentive to bring anatomist and curmudgeon Gabriel Crowther back to the place where he was raised after more than three decades away, along with his partner in amateur sleuthery, Harriet Westerman. And, when another murder is committed, Crowther and Harriet must deal with the seeting milieu of myth, magic, greed, lust, loyalty and secrets that exist in this small corner of the Lake District, if they are to uncover the killer and a secret that has remained buried for many years.

Crowther is a surly presence, who I didn’t really relate to [although I do come from a long and illustrious line of grumps, so I really should be empathising with him!]. However, despite not identifying with him – or, possibly because I did not identify with him – I actually found Crowther to be  a completely compelling and intriguing character. His closed and abrupt nature made me want to know more about his past, and why he acted the way he does and had such difficulty relating to his family [both alive and dead]. Thus, the setting of the bulk of the book around the area where Crowther grew up really enabled Robertson to delve beneath Crowther’s seemingly inscrutable façade.

But, for me, the true stand-out character of the novel was Harriet Westerman’s son, Stephen. Aged just nine, he is precocious and inquisitive, with an incredible knack for ferreting out information. I knew that I was going to like him after one very brief but beautifully realised little sequence. It occurred early on in the novel, during the preparations to depart for Keswick from Harriet’s home. Realising that he will be unable to take the delicate replica of his deceased father’s ship on the journey with them, Stephen decides to put the ship next to the window – so that the ship’s diminutive crew will have a view of the garden.

It’s only a couple of sentences, and doesn’t have any impact on the plot. But it is a wonderful little vignette that really epitomises the unselfish nature of Stephen [who, more than once in the novel, is prepared to help people with no thought to his own safety], and speaks volumes for Robertson’s skill as an author. In fact, Stephen is so lovely that even Crowther – who dislikes pretty much everyone – seems incredibly fond of him!

Island of Bones is a thoroughly enjoyable read, with Robertson’s lucid prose ensuring that the novel never felt like it is written in a ‘ye olde style’ [my own, made-up, term for historical fiction that tries too hard to recreate a historical period and ends up getting bogged down! Not sure if it’ll catch on]. That’s not to say that Robertson doesn’t ably bring to life 1780s Cumbria [she does], but just that it is never allowed to get in the way of the characterisation or the serpentine, twisting plot. Highly recommended.
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