Two hundred years ago Thornleigh Hall, seat of the Earl of Sussex, dominated its surroundings. But things were not right there. The Earl was a cripple and a recluse. His second marriage, to an actress was scandalous, but their union has given him a third son.
The Earl’s eldest son, Alexander, disappeared years ago. Hugh, his second son, has returned from fighting in the American War of Independence. Now he is an alcoholic.
Harriet Westerman lives on the neighbouring estate with her husband, the squire, and her younger sister Rachel. Rachel was jilted by Hugh some years ago and has never married.
A lot of facts there, but they’re all relevant as the plot begins. It’s complex, but it is very clearly laid out and never too busy.
Out riding one morning Harriet discovers a man’s body. And a ring bearing the Thornleigh family coat of arms.
What to do? Harriet is a capable and curious woman, and so she approaches her neighbour. A man she has never met – the reclusive anatomist Gabriel Crowther. He has good reasons for avoiding society but, against his better judgement, he is persuaded to help Harriet.
And in London violinist Alexander Adams is murdered His children are orphaned and in danger.
Two murders. Two Alexander’s. What are the connections?
The story that unfolds is dark and compelling. Imogen Robertson writes beautifully and handles her multi stranded plot well. Each strand is important and the balance is interesting.
Her canvas is broad, but every scene is well painted. There are post-mortem scenes, drawing-room scenes, court room scenes and much, much more.
But it is the wonderful cast that really makes this book sing. It really is impossible not to will Harriet and Gabriel on. She is forthright, he is quiet, but both are intelligent and resourceful. A great team! And you can’t not weep for Alexander’s children. Not wonder about Hugh and Rachel’s past.
The resolution is well handled – I wondered at first, but then more facts emerged and everything made sense. And a postscript added a whole new dimension.
This is an accomplished and entertaining debut novel, and I’m definitely interested to see what Imogen Robertson does next.
A sequel certainly looks possible…