London, 1785 - A man is found dead near St Paul's Cathedral; the body staked out as if to be whipped, and with a slave punishment mask forced onto his face. When the deceased is identified as a former West Indies plantation owner and slave trader, Trimnell, it's immediately assumed to be a revenge killing by one of his former slaves but the answer isn't that simple.
Theft of Life is a murder mystery set against the backdrop of Georgian London, where high fashion and slavery walk side by side. There may be no slavery as such in England but the lifestyles of wealthy tradesmen and their fashionable wives and daughters depend upon income from West Indian plantations, which inevitably involves slavery. Among them live freed slaves, in various roles from footmen to business owners; always living precariously, in danger of being snatched and re-enslaved despite the law.
It isn't just a loosely disguised history lesson though but a compelling thriller - maybe not as dark as some but with twists and turns to the very end. I thought I had it all worked out - who killed whom and why - but was still surprised by the final twist.
Imogen Robertson is a new historical thriller find for me and I'm coming rather late to this series - this is the fifth - but I soon slipped into the world of anatomist Gabriel Crowther and Harriet Westerman, a widow with an unusual taste for crime-solving. There's obviously an ongoing story arc regarding Mrs Westerman and the household of Jonathan Thornleigh, the eleven year old Earl of Sussex, but enough is sketched out in the opening chapters to bring a new-comer up to speed, hopefully without spoiling the previous books too much.
Maryom's review - 4.5 starsPublisher -Headline
Genre - Historical fiction, crime
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