The Anatomy of Ghosts is an entertaining historical mystery set in and around Cambridge University in the late 18th century. I should read historical mysteries more often because I almost always enjoy them – and this one was no exception.
When London bookseller John Holdsworth’s son is drowned in a tragic accident, his wife insists that their little boy is communicating with them from the spirit world. Holdsworth doesn’t agree and is so disgusted by his wife’s claims that he decides to write a book in which he attempts to prove that ghosts don’t exist. The title of Holdworth’s book is The Anatomy of Ghosts and it soon brings him to the attention of Lady Anne Oldershaw. Her son, Frank, has suffered a nervous breakdown after apparently seeing the ghost of a friend’s wife, Mrs Whichcote, at Jerusalem College, Cambridge. Holdsworth agrees to help Frank – and at the same time he begins to uncover the truth behind what really happened to Mrs Whichcote.
This is the first book I’ve read by Andrew Taylor and I really liked his writing style – it’s detailed yet flows nicely and is easy to read. Some might find the book too slow to begin with, but it does pick up pace. Something that really impressed me about Taylor’s writing was the way he managed to bring his settings so vibrantly to life. Whether he was describing John Holdsworth pushing his barrow of old books through the bustling streets of 18th century London or a couple of students in their caps and gowns strolling through the quiet courtyards and gardens of Cambridge, the sounds, sights and even the smells are incredibly vivid. As a historical novel, though, I think it would have benefited from a few points of reference to anchor the story in the 1700s, as it did at times feel more like the Victorian period to me.
The characters, unfortunately, were not the most likeable of people. In fact, I didn’t like any of them, not even Holdsworth, but it didn’t matter too much – the strength of this book was definitely its plot rather than its characters. And I’ve been left intrigued about what was actually in John Holdsworth’s book, The Anatomy of Ghosts. It would have been a nice addition to the story if we could have read a few excerpts!
Are Andrew Taylor’s other books as good as this one?