After a brutal prologue with a public hanging at Tyburn in 1751, Island of Bones by Imogen Robertson moves forward to the strange summer of 1783 when the whole of Europe is covered by a fog and haze. At St Herberts’s Island on Derwent Water, Cumberland the owner Mrs Briggs has been encouraged to consider the removal of the long buried bones of the first Lord Greta and his wife to consecrated grounds and the rebuilding of the tomb as a summerhouse. But when the coffins are examined there is a third unknown body resting across them. Mrs Briggs houseguest is the Vizegrafin Margaret von Bolsenheim and she suggests:
‘Perhaps we should summon my brother Charles,’ the Vizegrafin said quietly, then, as she found the others looking at her:’You know he has become quite renowned at ferreting all sorts of information from a body.’…..’And there is a woman, a widow now who seems to involve herself in his interests.’
‘I understand from the newspapers that my brother lives in Sussex now, and goes by the name of Gabriel Crowther. The woman’s name is Harriet Westerman.’
Crowther had sold all his property, including Silverside Hall, now owned by Mr and Mrs Briggs after his brother was hanged for the murder of his father, Sir William Penhaglion, First Baron Keswick. Crowther had departed for the continent to study in seclusion and anonymity. But now the mystery body and the presence of his sister and nephew summon him back to his childhood home, accompanied by the recently widowed Mrs Westerman, her son Stephen , and his tutor Mr Quince. The locals while respecting their betters in society still cling to ancient customs and follow the lead given to them by Casper Grace, a cunning-man, who believes in witches and evil spirits. There are long standing complex family rivalries dating back to the Jacobite rebellions of 1715 and 1745. But there are also a plethora of suspects when an objectionable Austrian, whose beautiful daughter Sophia Hurst catches the eye of Mr Quince, is murdered.
Does Island of Bones fulfill the standards the reader should apply to historical crime fiction?
Education-definitely the dialogue , manners and atmosphere of the time are accurately portrayed.
Good plot-well it may even be a little too complex in places.
Stimulating thought- yes.
Memorable characters-this is the main strength of the book with not only the main cast of Harriet, Crowther, Stephen and Casper, but also some lovely little cameo appearances by the loquacious Mrs Briggs, a pompous Cockermouth lawyer Mr White, and a less than resolute traveller Mr Douglas Dodds.
When his new acquaintance added that the man was a foreigner, Mr Dodd’s wise fears were done away with entirely, and his resolution returned. many people, otherwise reasonable and hospitable, might find a dozen reasons to kill such a man.
Island of Bones is not an easy lightweight read, and it was not ideal entering the series at number three, but it was well worth the effort. I might when I have time go back to read the earlier books in the series.