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Circle of Shadows

A Gabriel Crowther and Harriet Westerman Mystery by Imogen Robertson

Circle of Shadows by Imogen Robertson

Review: Harriet Westerman's brother-in-law has been charged in Germany with murder — a locked-room murder, no less, one in which he was found with the dead woman and is the only suspect — prompting her to leave her English estate and travel to the Duchy of Maulberg to be with her sister … and help determine if there might be something the authorities are missing, in Circle of Shadows, the fourth mystery in this series by Imogen Robertson.

It is late February, 1784, and Harriet asks her friend Gabriel Crowther to accompany her, as she values his company and respects his keen eye. Gabriel, a recluse who studies the science of the dead, and is "quite rich enough to never leave his house", quickly if also a bit reluctantly agrees to go with her. The journey will take more than a month and they can only hope they are not too late to talk to Daniel Clode before he is executed. They do arrive in time, only to find the Duchy to be very different place, indeed, from England. The fabulous castle at the center of the duchy is awash in intrigue, both personal and political, as the Duke is about to marry … and not necessarily for love. Indeed, the dead woman — Lady Martesen — was a particular favorite companion of the Duke's. It isn't long before Gabriel stuns the court by stating that she could not have died in the room in which she was found with Daniel, but was in fact drowned elsewhere, her body moved. To Harriet and Gabriel's surprise, that doesn't move the court at all, which is convinced of Daniel's guilt … though oddly doesn't seem to be in any hurry to execute him for the crime.

There are so many strengths in Circle of Shadows that it almost seems unfair to point out some of the notable weaknesses. On the plus side, it is beautifully written, with descriptive language and a flowing narrative. The characters, most particularly Harriet Westerman and Gabriel Crowther, make for an interesting pair of sleuths and when they, either together or more often individually, are on stage, as it were, it's impossible not to be drawn into whatever it is they are involved. The primary mystery plot is cleverly devised and intricately crafted, almost so much so to the point of being convoluted, but really quite satisfying in the end. Which leads to the primary drawback here, the amount of time and space devoted to subplots that are at best peripherally related to the crime and more importantly not featuring either of the main characters. In retrospect, it's understandable why they are included but seem unnecessary in the moment and not fully realized in the end. The fairy tale setting also doesn't work quite as well as it might; it's supposed to be grand and fantastic and, to be sure, foreign to the country gentry visitors but comes across as distinctly artificial to the reader. (It is, in fact, a fictional place though based, according to an author note, on real German courts of the time.) On balance, the pluses outweigh the minuses here, but one hopes that Harriet and Gabriel's next adventure together will be in their home setting of England.

Acknowledgment: Penguin Group provided a copy of Circle of Shadows for this review.

Review Copyright © 2013 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved

Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …

Mystery Book Review: Island of Bones by Imogen RobertsonIsland of Bones
Viking (Hardcover), October 2012
ISBN-13: 9780670026272; ISBN-10: 0670026271

Location(s) referenced in Circle of Shadows: Germany

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Circle of Shadows by Imogen Robertson

Circle of Shadows by A Gabriel Crowther and Harriet Westerman Mystery

Publisher: Viking
Format: Hardcover
ISBN-13: 978-0-670-02628-9
Publication Date:
List Price: $27.95

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