The Anatomy of Ghosts was my second Andrew Taylor novel and I enjoyed it even more than the first (Bleeding Heart Square). Taylor vividly captures Cambridge in 1786 from the perspective of of insiders and outsiders associated with the (fictional) Jerusalem College.
The book’s mystery centers on bookseller/author John Holdsworth’s attempt to find young Frank Oldershaw and return him to his wealthy mother’s home in London. Lady Oldershaw’s request would seem unremarkable except that Frank’s whereabouts involve a home for the mentally ill, Frank’s confession that he has seen a ghost, and the promise of great financial rewards if Holdsworth is successful. Holdsworth doubts the veracity of this story immediately, but is soon drawn into the strange circumstances surrounding Slyvia Whichcote’s death, and one of Cambridge’s most selective and secretive societies. Along the way Holdsworth encounters scholars, street prostitutes, English gentry and household servants all interested in protecting secrets of their own.
Taylor’s writing is both luxurious and readable and it immediately transports the reader to late 18th century Cambridge. I could see, smell, and taste the excesses available to the scholars in contrast to the simplicity and even squalor reserved for the serving class. Taylor’s plot was well developed and had enough twists and turns to keep me interested throughout.
I admit I was left wanting more from all the main characters- especially Holdsworth/Carbur, but I’ve decided that’s a good thing. John Holdsworth is a terrific protagonist and I could only wish Taylor were in the business of writing a sequel.
I’ll be checking out even more of Taylor’s extensive catalog in the future!