A series of murders in an 18th-century English village leads to the investigation of a ruined aristocratic family by an unlikely forensic duo, in an enjoyable debut.
Add another name to the ranks of historical criminology: Gabriel Crowther, student of anatomy and “what record a man’s life left on his physical remains”; also a man with a dubious past who joins forces with feisty landowner Mrs. Harriet Westerman when a body is found on her property. London-based Robertson brings good humor and freshness to her story of sudden death and family intrigue, threading larger historical dimensions like the Gordon Riots and the American War of Independence into her rural mystery. Widower Alexander Thornleigh, heir to an earldom, who walked away from his heritage to marry the woman he loved, lives in London with his two children. The murder in West Sussex, near Thornleigh Hall, coincides with an attack on Alexander which leaves the children imperiled orphans. As Crowther and Mrs. Westerman investigate the first death, Alex’s younger brother Hugh enters the story, a wounded soldier with a corrosive secret and an unpleasant steward. Guilt, cruelty and dark affections are stirred into the pot as Robertson pulls her London and village stories together in a denouement ringing with leopards’ roars and purified by fire.
More a whydunit than a whodunit, but spirited, quality entertainment nonetheless.