A good friend of mine raves about Andrew Taylor, and now I know why. I'd never read anything by him before, so when I saw The Anatomy of Ghosts available to advanced reviewers, I jumped on the chance to read it - and I very much enjoyed it. I will definitely be on the lookout for more of his books.
The story takes place mainly at Cambridge University, where a young student claims to have seen a ghost and is taken to a nearby sanitarium for treatment. His mother, Lady Anne, who is connected with the University and is concerned for her son, hires a down-on-his-luck man to investigate the matter and restore her son to his right mind.
This story is chock full of interesting characters, all of whom step right off the page and into living color. Jerusalem college (a college within the larger University), is almost a character in itself with secrets and habits and its own lifestyle. The young men who go there to learn come away with much, much more than the degree they studied for. It was quite intriguing, and put me in mind of rumors and whispers that one hears about old campuses like that.
I particularly loved the writing, though. The story takes place in the late 18th century, and the writing set the tone, character, and pace perfectly, without venturing off into wordy exposition, all the while keeping the suspense and the intrigue going. Quite a feat! Too often historical fiction forgets itself and strays into modernity in order to ramp up the tension and suspense, but Taylor did not lapse at all.
I also really enjoyed the slight social commentary running throughout the novel, with regards to rank and position and power. Of course this is a popular theme throughout history, as people have always been obsessed with rank and position and power, but I felt that here it was put on display, in a way. It's hard to say just what I mean, because I don't mean that the writing was Austen-esque in terms of satirical social commentary, but rather that it was so gritty and real feeling that a modern reader would see it as such. It was not glorified or glamorous, but rather what I think was an accurate representation of the lengths that some will go to to attain power and the lengths some will go to to keep it. Fascinating stuff.
I would have given this book 5 stars, except that I feel that one portion of the plot was not resolved at all in the end, and I was left a little disappointed. The ending itself was satisfying, and I could not guess any of the twists and turns that the story would take (and there were quite a few!), but this one little detail was irksome for not being resolved, and so I had to drop down the rating a bit. Otherwise, I was drawn in and engaged in the story, and felt as if I was watching from the sidelines rather than reading, and I love the feeling of falling through the pages of a book.
I definitely recommend this one to historical fiction, mystery and thriller fans.