The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor

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?

6 thoughts on “The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor

  1. Annie says:

    Probably his most famous historical novel is ‘The American Boy’, which has as one of its characters the young Edgar Allen Poe and that tells you all you need to know about the tone of it. I did it with a Summer School group last year and they really enjoyed it. I preferred his last book, ‘Bleeding Heart Square’, which is set in London between the two world wars. I can really recommend that. However, he also writes very chilling modern thrillers that I know are extremely highly thought of. You might want to look our for them as well.

    • Helen says:

      I like the sound of Bleeding Heart Square. I’ve looked at it once or twice but for one reason or another ended up not reading it, so thanks for recommending it. And I love Edgar Allen Poe so maybe I should try that one as well!

  2. FleurFisher says:

    I’ll echo the recommendations for Bleeding Heart Square and The American Boy, and also mention that I was impressed by the Roth Trilogy and a couple of other standalones – the names escape me I’m afraid. The coouple series books I tried were okay, but I wasn’t inspired to read any more of them.

    I struggled with this one when I had it out from the library, but I suspect it might have been the wrong moment and I will give it another try.

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