Amy Myers is known for her short stories and historical novels featuring Victorian chef Auguste Didier and chimney sweep Tom Wasp. Her contemporary series features classic car detective Jack Colby, and she is currently working on a new 1920s mystery series featuring Nell Drury, chef at Kent’s Wychbourne Court.
Way back in 2009 when I reviewed Imogen Robertson’s first historical crime novel, Instruments of Darkness, I expressed the hope that ‘Gabriel Crowther will be around for a long time’. I’m therefore delighted to report that his fifth case, conducted in conjunction with the inimitable Mrs Harriet Westerman, is now published, Theft of Life; their delicately balanced partnership has reached a new peak and their relationship inches satisfactorily onwards.
The scene is the churchyard of St Paul’s Cathedral, in 1785. The gruesome sight of a dead body lying amongst the graves, clad only in an undershirt, is transfixing early rising Londoners. One of them is William Geddings, footman to Mrs Westerman, who recognises the body – it is that of a former slave-owner in Jamaica, and one he knew only too well in his own early life. He had himself been a slave. William is not the only freed slave in London, where passions run high over the slave trade and reactions to the freed slaves settling in Britain are very mixed. Francis Glass, acting manager for a London bookseller and printer, is black and becomes drawn into the violence that follows, when a further horrific death takes place, one that is a personal tragedy for Francis. Gabriel Crowther, anatomist, and the widowed Harriet Westerman make it their business to fight their way to the truth.
Imogen Robertson has an amazing gift for convincingly recreating every side of eighteenth-century life. No Georgette Heyer world here. She summons up the smells, the tastes, the sights and daily life of London, from the ranks of high society to the poverty stricken and the viciousness of the underworld, reflecting their differing attitudes to the slave trade. This is a breathtaking novel led by a satisfying plot with two intriguing protagonists and set in a period so well described that the link with our own times is only too clear.