These books only keep getting better and better. In this fourth in the series it is 1784, and English gentlewoman Harriet Westerman and anatomist Gabriel Crowther receive news that Harriet’s sister’s new-made husband, Daniel Clode, has been arrested for murder in the Duchy of Maulberg. Harriet and Gabriel decamp there forthwith and plunge into an investigation that is less about the bodies piling up than it is a conspiracy infesting not only the highest levels of the duchy but reaching into all the courts of Europe as well.
The true test of any novel, as I know I have said too many times, is how thoroughly the reader is drawn into the novel’s world, and here you can hear the swish of Harriet’s skirts over parquet as she prowls the gilt-encrusted halls of the Palace of Ulrichsberg. There are some great characters, like Daniel’s engaging jailer, who says of his prisoner
If you whip him away I shall have to hope the duke finds some scribbler of seditious pamphlets to lock up here for a few months, or I shall be deprived of civilized company. No doubt some young man will publish something insulting for the wedding. I trust in that.
I’m not sure Robertson meant me to love the Duke as much as I do, but who wouldn’t?
“Swann, the lovely Mrs. Westerman recommends mercy. Is your heart still of stone?”
Harriet saw a flash of irritation cross Swann’s face. “Crime against a husband is a manner of treason, sire. If you will be merciful, do not agree to her breaking on the wheel, but she must certainly die.”
The duke smiled lazily. “One would think after all these years, Swann, you would have learned not to say ‘must’ to me…”
When Krall, the local district officer, and Crowther go to interview an alchemist, who is reluctant to admit them into his inner sanctum, Crowther is moved to admiration of the alchemist’s ability to articulate his displeasure.
He had always thought German a pleasing language to swear in. It had the proper supply of consonants.
And then of course the adorable and acute spy Jacob Pegel, agent of Harriet’s arch enemy (or is he?) Manzerotti
They did what everyone with power does in my experience, Mrs. Westerman. They spend most of their energies trying to hang onto it.
In this season of sequestration and government shutdown, Congress, please note. Not that most people in power are given to self-examination or even rational thought, for that matter, as this novel underscores.
There are some great descriptive lines, thrown away in a single sentence just to make sure we are paying attention.
…the door to the duke’s study was opened again, and a gentleman almost smothered by the splendor of his cravat beckoned her inside.
There are some what I can only describe as very creepy automata, also known as Robots 1.0, secret societies bent on revolution, or so they tell themselves, and a serial killer as selfish and self-absorbed as he is insane, although I must say the first victim who initiates the entire cascade of events is entirely deserving of revenge. (Trying to be as obscure as possible so as not to give anything away.) Highly recommended.