In the late eighteenth century England, John Holdsworth is a man of depressing circumstance. Fate seems to have taken a cruel turn, stealing John’s son then wife away in separate accidental drownings. A book seller and binder by trade, John’s downward spiral continues with the loss of his business and home. Then he is made a mysterious proposal: travel to Cambridge and seek the source of Frank Oldershaw’s sudden descent into mental instability after purportedly seeing a ghost.
John is selected for the task after Lady Anne Oldershaw reads John’s only book, The Anatomy of Ghosts. Lady Anne accepts John Holdsworth as an expert in the non-existence of phantoms and those who prey on humankind’s need to believe in the supernatural when reason fails.
Madness, grief, drownings and ruminations of ghosts are the threads layered throughout Andrew Taylor’s novel, The Anatomy of Ghosts. Taylor uses these motifs to skillfully draw the reader deeper into the year of 1786 and the mysterious lives of those residing in Jerusalem College at Cambridge. Underlying the mysteries at the cloistered college is a secret society built on power, money and sex. Through John Holdsworth, a Londoner, the reader gets an outsiders glimpse into this secret society.
Taylor’s writing is an interlaced structure of details. Although the story flows seemingly slow at times, it builds with intensity and intrigue. John Holdsworth is an interesting narrator. He is not entirely likeable, nor is he reliable as he appears to always hold something back, yet I was nevertheless drawn to him. His plain spoken descriptions and dialogue blend with the outwardly stark environs that hide layers of suspicion. As the story progressed, I began to wonder if John was the one descending into madness as his personal hauntings increase with the intensity of the mystery.
Despite the few intermittent episodes of sluggish narration, The Anatomy of Ghosts was a satisfying read from beginning to end.
Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Hyperion. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.