They are crime fiction's odd couple: the aging anatomist who has his renounced title and estate to pursue a quiet life dedicated to science; and the glamorous and wealthy young naval widow (and landowner) with an inappropriate sense of curiosity and a healthy disregard for the tedious rules of society.
Gabriel Crowther and Harriet Westerman have brought an engaging freshness to the historical crime novel, throwing light into the dark and secretive corners of Georgian England from deepest, rural Sussex (Instruments of Darkness) through conspiratorial London (Anatomy of Murder) and on to feudal, pagan Cumbria in this latest outing, Island of Bones.
As in the previous novels in the series, Island of Bones is notable for the combination of revealing historical detail, inctricate plotting and strong and entertaining characterisation.
Crowther and Harriet, who by now have obtained a degree of notoriety for their macabre investigations are called upon to investigate the discovery of an unexplained body in the tomb of the Earl of Greta, on the Earl's former lands near the town of Keswick. The land, not at all coincidentally, briefly belonged to Crowther who inherited it following the murder of his father (by Crowther's brother), the incident that convinved him to turn his back on his history.
The body turns up clues which hint at long-forgotten mysteries surrounding the original transfer of land to Crowther's father following the disgrace of the Earl of Greta who joined the ill-fated Jacobite rebellion. Crowther cannot resist delving deep into a history of familial malevolence, betrayal, jealousy and murder and with Harriet's impulsive and irresistible assistance his investigation begins to dislodge long-held secrets.
There is a touch of the MIdsomer Murders about Island of Bones - and I mean that in the most complimentary way. There is a truly outstanding supporting cast of utterly eccentric rural characters held in thrall to an extraordinary mix of pagan folklore, old wives tales and marvellous ghost stories. This is a long way from the contemporary sophistication of Georgian London, and Robertson evokes the dark, local landscape skilfully. Where it diverges from Midsomer Murders is in the strong and compelling story-telling.
Robertson spins her tale brilliantly, playing show and tell with her readers, dropping tantalising hints into the mystery and illusory glimpses of the truth while ratcheting up the tension.
Crowther and Harriet, odd match though they might be, are the perfect leading pair for Robertson's dramas, their contrasting darkness and light, professional and energetic passion merged to just the right effect. These are splendid novels that will win a wide audience.