Historical crime fiction has a new leading lady: Imogen Robertson. In partnership with her heroine Harriet Westerman she is creating an engaging and exciting series that could do for the Georgians what Sansom and Shardlake are doing for the Tudors.
We last saw Harriet, in Robertson's brilliant debut Instrument of Darkness, in deepest rural England, working with pioneering anatomist Gabriel Crowther to solve a murder on the great Thornleigh estate, home to the rich and powerful Earl of Sussex.
After a successful resolution of that investigation, the entire ensemble - Westermans, Thornleighs and Crowther - have decamped to London where Harriet's naval captain husband is being treated for a serious head injury following an accident on his warship.
Crowther and Harriet's fame as investigators has preceded them to London, and when a body is pulled out of the Thames, a naval spy asks them to look into the circumstances of the death, which is believed to be linked to a damaging espionage ring operating in the City.
Like Instruments of Darkness, Anatomy of Murder is notable for the range of intriguing characters and vivid tableaux Robertson weaves into the tale. Here we have a fascinating diversion into the world of opera and the strange lives of the castratos who were once feted across Europe; there is an indomitable tarot card reader who pursues her clients if they don't heed her warnings; there is commerce, politics and the business of religion; and then there is the great seething mass of London itself, from the rookeries to the drawing rooms of the gentry.
And perhaps it is this last that is the most important. Just as Matthew Shardlake has benefitted from being moved from rural monasteries to Lincoln's Inn on to York and back again in CJ Sansom's series, so Harriet Westerman blossoms in the new light of London and society. In rural Sussex her unladylike behaviour - investigating a murder! - and modern ways are regarded as an eccentricity. But in Georgian London, her activities are an affront to the rigorous norms of society, and so her modern attitudes give the reader a new prism through which to view this lost world of manners and mores.
All of which is wonderful - and it really is wonderful, the detail, the ambiance, the humour and the history - but without a story to embellish it wouldn't worth a great deal. But yet again, Robertson has delivered a seductive and beautifully constructed thriller, with pace and passion.
These are extremely good books, well written and entertaining. If you liked Sansom and Shardlake...