Sunday, August 22, 2010


Sarah Gumbley (pictured above right) is an Auckland based book reviewer, who reads a lot of literary fiction, biographies, and other non-fiction works, as well as enjoying some crime and thriler fiction. She has also reviewed for Good Reading, NZLawyer, and Scoop Review of Books in the past. Today, Sarah reviews ANATOMY OF MURDER by Imogen Robertson, a historic crime thriller.

By Imogen Robertson (Headline, August 2010
Reviewed by Sarah Gumbley

‘You’ve got to be in to win’ seems the lesson to be learned from successful English novelist Imogen Robertson. Only two years ago she was just another unknown author. That year, however she won the Guardian first book prize, awarded to unpublished writers. After submitting 1,000 words of the story she wanted to write, she won the competition and went on to have the rest of the novel financed and published. That became her debut novel, INSTRUMENTS OF DARKNESS, which received much recognition and was published in a number of countries. Now, Robertson has released her second novel, ANATOMY OF MURDER, once again, a heady mix of historical fiction and crime fiction set in eighteenth-century England.

The year is 1781, and England is at war with both America and France. The book opens with the much-loved British Captain Westerman sailing his ship, HMS Splendour, when it comes across a French boat in her path, and the two ships begin firing on each other. Back on land, and a few months later, Captain Westerman’s wife, Harriet, and her dear friend Crowther are once again asked to solve a mysterious murder, in London, when the body of a man is found dredged up from the River Thames. Intertwined with all this is the story of tarot card reader, Jocasta Bligh. With pet dog, Boyo, by her side, she reads the fortunes of visitors each day, but when an unlucky girl comes by, the cards read of an unimaginable horrors, and Bligh is forced to chase her down to save her from certain strife. Along the way she picks up street urchin, Sam, a ten-year-old orphan, a kind-hearted child, willing to help Bligh with anything for a warm bed and a snack to eat.

It was a rocky start; the ship attack in the prologue didn’t quite capture me, but the more I read, the more the story enveloped me, and there are some beautifully-written lines; “London rolled over in its bed and yawned at the approaching morning, then cursed it”. The story is believable, and effortlessly takes the reader back to 1781. No doubt this is because Robertson has completed thorough research for the background of this book, and based many of the people and events on truth. For example, the castrati did exist and the character of Lord Sandwich is largely based on a real person of the same name. However, it would have helped to read INSTRUMENTS OF DARKNESS first. While ANATOMY OF MURDER does stand on its own, it seems assumed that the characters are already known to the reader, so it felt like I was missing part of their story. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though. It’s certainly made me want to go out and purchase the first tale.

So, what do you think of Sarah's review? Do you like the Guest Reviews addition to Crime Watch? Do you like the sound of ANATOMY OF MURDER? Have you read it, or INSTRUMENTS OF DARKNESS? Does crime and thriller fiction set in historic times appeal? Thoughts and comments welcome.


  1. Craig - Thanks for hosting Sarah.

    Sarah - Thanks for this excellent review. You've gotten me interested in this, as I enjoy historical mysteries. It sounds as though there are some interesting characters, too.

  2. I like historic mysteries, thanks for the tip on reading the first book, then the second. I'll add it to the TBR pile.