Instruments of Darkness delivered more than I expected! Set in West Sussex in the 1780's, the protagonists are Harriet Westerman who runs her estate in the absence of her husband, a navy commander, and Gabriel Crowther, an anatomist.
When Harriet discovers a murdered man on her estate, she rides directly to the home of her neighbor, the reclusive, antisocial, Gabriel Crowther. Crowther is unaccustomed to receiving visitors, but when he reads the brief note his man brings him, he agrees to see Harriet. The note contains just two sentences: "I have found a body on my land. His throat has been cut."
Crowther simply can't resist a corpse! He does ask why Mrs. Westerman has come to him rather than the magistrate, and Harriet replies that she has read one of his published articles about the signs a murderer might leave on a body or in the vicinity of the body.
The scenes move back and forth between Sussex and London and America, where another murder has occurred. Although the switches are a bit abrupt, I had no difficulty switching locations and characters. The two (or three) stories are obviously tied together and the connections are reinforced as the novel continues.
I really liked the friendship that develops between Harriet and the reclusive Crowther, who is forced to mingle with many individuals as he and Harriet attempt to solve the murder and reveal the one responsible. The motive lies in the past, and this unusual team of "detectives" must discover the deadly secrets that have prompted the murders.
It is a bit unusual to pair two characters like Harriet and Crowther on the basis of friendship, rather than romance. Robertson does an excellent job with this aspect and gives us plenty to enjoy about the characters and their relationships. The minor characters are well-drawn as well.
While the conclusion seemed a bit rushed with some resemblance to Jane Eyre and The Fall of the House of Usher, I thoroughly enjoyed the novel and look forward to Robertson's next adventure with Harriet Westerman and Gabriel Crowther!
Fiction. Historical Fiction/Mystery. 2011. 372 pages.