The body was staked out in the north-east corner of the
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,” which Crowther
has slight shades of Colonel Brandon, as played by Alan Rickman,
from “Sense and Sensibility.” One knows characters,
and a series, truly speak 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
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.