First Sentence: The body was staked out in the north-east corner of the churchyard.
The murder of a former West Indies planter causes suspicion to fall on a runaway slave who is now working as a bookseller in London. It also has an emotional impact on Harriet Westerman’s senior footman, William Geddings. As Harriet and her friend, anatomist Gabriel Crowther, become more involved in the murder, they become more aware of how much of Britain’s wealth is built on the shameful trade of human lives.
It is an excellent touch that the book opens from the perspective of a character rarely the focus of historical mysteries. We also know we are in for a story that is difference, and possibly uncomfortable as Robertson gives us a perspective and insight into the English involvement in the slave trade.
The quality of an author’s dialogue makes such a difference to a story. Robertson writes excellent dialogue with enough sense of the period to make it realistic. But it also tells us a lot about the characters. …”You were doing better when you were praising my talents, Crowther, rather than taking the chance to insult my husband and my intelligence. I told you, as a friend, what William said about my husband. Please do not use it to try and play on me like a cheap fiddle!” The repartee between Harriet and Crowther is always a delight.
As for characters, they are fully-developed and very memorable. Harriet and Crowther come to life and each holds their own. Theirs is a relationship of friendship and respect. Jane Austin would definitely have approved, although she might have been a bit intimidated by Harriet. She is very much in the style of Mrs. Croft from “Persuasion,” while Crowther has slight shades of Colonel Brandon, as played by Alan Rickman, from “Sense and Sensibility.” One knows that the characters, and the series, truly speaks to readers when one imagines who would be cast in their roles. There is also a very good introduction to those who surround Harriet and how they all fit together.
Robertson has a wonderful voice and ability to convey emotions. Through them you not only get to know the character, but you feel the pique of Harriet, the sorrow of a young boy, and the apprehension of a free black man. You truly feel what the characters feel. Yet Robertson also paints visual descriptions…”The hedgerows were thick with the stars of Queen Anne’s Lace, and the hawthorn bushes heavy with blossom—and the quiet cut through him.”
“Theft of Life” is wonderful in so many aspects; not the least of which is an excellent mystery with well-done twists and a suspenseful climax. It is a remarkable book and one which should be read.
THEFT OF LIFE (Hist mys-Harriet Westerman/Gabriel Crother-England-1785/Georgian) – Ex
Robertson, Imogen – 5th in series
Headline – 2014