The year is 1740.
George II is on the throne but England’s remoter provinces remain largely a law unto themselves.
In Lancashire a grim discovery has been made: a Squire’s wife, Dolores Brockletower, lies in the woods above her home, Garlick Hall, her throat brutally slashed.
Called to the scene, Coroner Titus Cragg finds the Brockletower household awash with rumor and suspicion. He enlists the help of his astute young friend, doctor Luke Fidelis, to throw light on the case. But this is a world in which forensic science is in its infancy, and policing hardly exists. Embarking on their first gripping investigation, Cragg and Fidelis are faced with the superstition of witnesses, obstruction by local officials, and denunciations from the Squire himself.
Long time readers of this blog will likely have realized by now that the majority of what I read falls in to the fiction category. And of those quite a few fall under historical fiction. It is a genre I greatly enjoy and one I enjoy finding new authors in.
Sadly though, I do not believe I will be adding Robin Blake’s Cragg & Fidelis series to my list.
Like most mystery novels, A Dark Anatomy opens with a grisly murder. Dolores Brockletower has been found in the woods near her home. Her throat has been brutally slashed but other than that she is untouched. Her fine clothes, her jewelry, all is as it was when she was last seen leaving Garlick Hall for her morning ride.
While this is certainly an intriguing enough lead up, sadly the follow through is rather lacking. Told from perspective of lawyer and coroner Titus Cragg, we the reader are subjected to long stretches of novel that more often that not have little affect on the overall story. While Cragg is supposedly a well renowned lawyer, he spends a good deal of the narrative stumbling from one person to the next. The clues are so blatant that any reader paying attention would likely have figured things out in the first fifty pages.
Though the prose itself is at often dry and bland, what I truly found upsetting was the way the characters themselves were handled. Generally the first book in a series is used to introduce recurring characters to readers. To endear them to the reader so that they care about what happens to the characters in subsequent books. This unfortunately was not done very well in A Dark Anatomy. Instead of introducing us to the main characters of Titus Cragg and Dr. Luke Fidelis, rather they are plunked down in front of the reader. We are given little to no information on them and as such it is hard to care about them in any way.
I will give Blake points for illustrating just how deaths were investigated in England before the advent of a true police force. When local persons were often forced to play multiple roles. That in itself was interesting. The rest of the book though? Sadly, not so much.