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The Anatomy of Ghosts - Andrew Taylor

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Author: Andrew Taylor / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 17 February 2011 / Genre: Crime & Thriller / Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd / Title: The Anatomy of Ghosts / ISBN 13: 9780141018621 / ISBN 10: 0141018621 / Alternative EAN: 9780718147518

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      14.12.2010 00:12
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      An atmospheric crime novel set in 18th century Cambridge

      A grieving London bookseller and writer is offered a commission by Lady Anne Oldershaw. She hires him to go to Cambridge University, to help her son, who has been driven mad and claims he can see the ghost of a dead woman. Following tragedy in his own family, when his son Georgie drowned in the Thames, Holdsworth has written a successful pamphlet, The Anatomy of Ghosts, exposing the trickery and lies behind ideas about ghosts and haunting. The pamphlet was inspired by his anger at his wife Maria, whose response to Georgie's death was to give money to a dodgy medium, and who ended up in the river at the same spot as her son.

      I was not that concerned about the mystery in this novel. What I did like was the quality of Andrew Taylor's writing, and the way in which he skilfully evokes atmosphere and builds up a really interesting picture of 18th century university life. There is a secret society which in reality is mostly a drinking club, albeit one with particularly nasty features like an initiation ritual which involves raping a virgin.

      Holdsworth's mission gives him an opportunity to go round interviewing a range of residents of the college, and those in the town who have connections with the university. The dead woman whose ghost worries Frank Oldershaw was a Mrs Sylvia Whichcote, who was found drowned in a pond.

      Not everything is revealed to the reader through Holdsworth's investigations. Some of the novel is from his viewpoint though always in the third person, but there are also lots of scenes revealing the people and the politics of Jerusalem College.

      Andrew Taylor writes convincing, complicated and interesting female characters as well as male ones - some of his previous novels have been written wholly or substantially from the viewpoint of their female characters. As well as Lady Anne, there is her much younger friend, Elinor Carbury, who is married to the Master of the College. She is bored and frustrated in her marriage, fed up with the conventions of the small, academic society she has to live in. She learns things which should shock her but instead of responding in a conventional way, in some cases she has a minor rebellion and just stores up more secrets. A lot of the other characters are rather unattractive, and in some cases they are downright nasty, but I found Elinor as engaging a character as John Holdsworth.

      Although this is a crime novel, with Holdsworth as the reluctant investigator for hire who finds he must unravel a murder mystery, the best bits of this book are the setting and the characters.

      4.5*

      This is a slightly edited version of a review which first appeared at www.thebookbag.co.uk

      Format: Hardback 472 pages
      Publisher: Penguin Michael Joseph September 2010
      ISBN: 978 0 718 14751 8
      Price £18.99; Amazon price £11.39, Kindle price £11.99
      Paperback publication in February 2011

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