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Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Dark Anatomy. Robin Blake. Pan Books (2011)

A very enjoyable historical murder mystery. In 1740, near the town of Preston in Lancashire,  the wife of a local squire is found dead in a forest, she had her throat cut. Titus Cragg, the local coroner has to set up an inquest for the death and also deal with the political and social problems that the death creates in the town. With his friend and colleague Dr Luke Fidelis, Titus Cragg begins to examine the circumstances before encountering a very significant problem. The story unfolds very nicely, the reveals are very well staged and the conclusion is clever and credible.
Robin Blake uses the historical context very well to frame and drive the story, the investigation is intimately wrapped up in the social and political structures of Preston and they tie very cleverly into the investigation and the death itself. The plot mechanics are woven very thoroughly into the historical context. This allows Robin Blake to present the information about the context to the reader as part of the unfolding story, as interested parties become involved in the case they reveal the information about the town and their place in it without every lecturing the reader.
Titus Cragg is a first person narrator and a very companionable guide to the town as well as a committed and competent coroner. He is aware of the problems that the case is creating and also aware of doing his duty as well as possible. He is not stupid nor willing to unnecessarily antagonise others so he pursues the investigation with thoughtful care.
The supporting cast all emerge from the narration with clarity and are distinct and clearly separate characters. In particular, Titus Cragg's political opponent, the town bailiff develops a considerable presence in spite of having only a small actual part to play. Titus is always aware of him so he looms large, this is a nice way to manage him and give Titus someone who can balance him effectively in the story. Given that constraints of a first person narration it uses the narration to provide a focus on another character without having to break the narrative to introduce him separately. This is particularly striking given that Dr Luke Fidelis, who works with Titus Cragg and is his friend does not emerge with the same force in the story as the bailiff does. A good fun read.

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