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Monday, January 24, 2011

The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor

Title: The Anatomy of Ghosts
Author: Andrew Taylor
Genre: Historical Mystery
Publisher: Hyperion
Pages: 496
Rating: 3 Crowns

Synopsis: 1786, England. John Holdsworth, a bookseller and novelist fallen upon hard times is approached by a man with an odd commission. Lady Anne Oldershaw's husband has passed away. Now a wealthy widow, she would like to hire Holdsworth to catalogue her late husband's extensive library in order to donate it to Cambridge University. However, before he undertakes that task, he must complete a more pressing one: find Lady Anne's son Frank - who is committed to a home for the mentally unstable under the claim that he has seen a ghost - and return him to London.

Once in Cambridge, Holdsworth finds Frank in a manic state that is somehow connected to the mysterious death of Sylvia Whichcote, the wife of one of Frank's colleagues at Jerusalem College. As Holdsworth tries to help Frank and unravel the mystery of Sylvia's death, he is drawn deeper into the secretive Cambridge community and encounters scholars, louche young men, enigmatic women, and street urchins in ready supply - many connected to a secret society that meets within the college's walls.

My Review: Part ghost story, part mystery, and a slight love story mixed in, The Anatomy of Ghosts is a rather interesting look into Cambridge University in Georgian times. Although the story started off a bit slow, with a lot of the recent history of our main character, John Holdsworth, I found myself appreciating this quite a bit later on when the action picks up. Understanding Holdsworth's particular situation helped bring a lot of insight into much of the rest of the story. This novel is nearly 500 pages long, but you definitely don't realize it as you get caught up in the mystery of Jerusalem College.

We're introduced to a wide cast of characters at the beginning of the novel, which is a useful reference as you start to actually meet the characters and learn more about them. I found myself referencing the list on more than one occasion, much as I might do when reading a play, and remembering the significance of little details pertaining to each person as the plot thickens. And as any good mystery should, you're wondering who can really be trusted and who may actually be the villain.

Holdsworth arrives at Cambridge knowing one thing for sure - he needs to help restore Frank to sanity above all else. While on this journey, he finds that the cause of Franks condition is very layered and a new set of questions seems to come up with each answer he potentially finds. All the while you can't help but ask: did Frank really see a ghost? Is Jerusalem College haunted?

In a time when there could be little keeping him on his feet, Holdsworth must do his best to placate everyone while uncovering the truth. It's a great ride to simply figure out which truth is the most important, who you can trust, and who may simply be misleading because it is to their advantage. And seeing the amount of scandal that can take place in this university is astounding - who knows how they managed to keep anything sacred when you see all that is going on!

I liked this story quite a bit, but I will admit that I would have given it a higher rating if I didn't feel that there were a lot of unanswered questions in the end. Many story lines seemed to have loose ends, which makes you wonder if the intention is to write a sequel to help tie things up. Holdsworth is a pretty good, though accidental detective, and I found myself rooting for him to uncover the truth and chase away some ghosts of his own.

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Renee said...

Thanks for the great review. I am definitely going to have to read this next!

-Angela 'The Queen of the Quill'

Crystal - Princess of Pop Culture said...

It really was a good book, I hope you enjoy it when you're able to get to it :)

Cat said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it - I have it on hold at the library and looking forward to reading it.

Crystal - Princess of Pop Culture said...

Cat - I'm looking forward to seeing what you think of it when you're able to read it! Hopefully it comes soon :)

librarypat said...

this is the first I have heard of this book. It sounds interesting.
Thank you for the review.