The Paris Winter by Imogen Robertson

Now this is a book that can pull you right into the heart of Paris, in the winter of 1909, at the height of La Belle Époque. And it’s a book with a rich, dramatic story to tell.

Maud Heighton came to Paris to study art, to paint.  She loved the world she found, but she was struggling. She had little money, she was always cold, she was always hungry. Maud didn’t know what to do, but she did know that she wasn’t going to go home to her disapproving family.

The Paris WinterFortunately an angel was on hand. Tanya, was an art student too, and she came from a wealthy Russian family. She saw that Maud was struggling, and she found a way to help. She introduced Maud to Christian, who was looking for a companion for his opium addicted sister Sylvie. Someone to distract her, to encourage her to take an interest in art and books, someone to draw her back into the world.

It seemed almost too good to be true. Maud had a comfortable home, a generous salary, an accommodating employer. She thrived as an artist, and she seemed to be doing Sylvie good. And maybe it was too good to be true, but it was so easy to be swept along. I liked Maud, and I was so pleased to see her happy and successful.

There were little signs that maybe something was amiss. But nothing to prepare me for the sudden crash that came. I wish I could say more, but it really wouldn’t be fair.

A lovely historical story, of art and artists, turned into a tense drama that would culminate in a dramatic finale as Paris is flooded in January 1910.

I was held from start to finish, because I found so much that was wonderful.

The characters were wonderfully drawn, utterly believable, and so very engaging.

And there is so much going on. A love story. A story of art. A crime story. A story of betrayal. And a study of women striving to succeed in a man’s world. Imogen Robertson really knows how to spin a tale, and she brings all of this together beautifully.

Her tale is rich with details – so much art, so much history – and time and place are brilliantly evoked.

And she tells a bigger story too, of a time when women artist struggled in the shadows of their male counterparts, of a time when Paris was at its height as a centre of art and culture, and of a world on the brink of change.

The setting are reflected in catalogue notes for an unsigned collection of art, scattered throughout the text. As I read they felt like a distraction, but in the end the story explained why they had to be there. It was a  lovely, clever touch.

There are many lovely, clever touches in a very well constructed plot, that twists and turns in some very interesting ways.

I really do wish I could write more about the story, the characters, all the wonderful things I read about. But this is too good a book to risk spoiling.

It held me from start to finish.

Instruments of Darkness by Imogen Robertson

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…

Teaser Tuesdays / It’s Tuesday, where are you ?


Just quote a couple of spoiler-free sentences the book you’re reading to tempt other readers.

Here is mine:-

“His habits soon became known. To the educated, he was a man of science cursed with an appalling lack of manners; to everyone under ten he was an evil doctor who cut souls from the living bodies of naughty children and ate them.”

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB


I have come to Mr Crowther’s house. He is very reclusive, and I have never been here and we have never met. But now I need his help. You see, he is an anatomist and I have found a dead man on the edge of the estate. Wearing a ring bearing the Thornleigh arms…

It’s Tuesday, where are you? is hosted by raidergirl3.

It’s a strange one!

This all comes courtesy of Instruments of Darkness by Imogen Robertson