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Bookmarks Issue: 
52-May-June-2011
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A-The Anatomy of GhostsAndrew Taylor is the author of dozens of novels, many of them works of historical fiction. He is the only person to have twice won the Historical Dagger award from the Crime Writers Association of Great Britain. Reviewed: An Unpardonable Crime (3.5 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2004).

The Story: After John Holdsworth's young son drowns in the Thames, Holdsworth suffers another tragedy: "spiritualists" who promise communication with the boy hoodwink his wife. She refuses to leave their house and eventually drowns as well. Entering the fray of 18th-century pamphlet wars, Holdworth publishes a treatise, "The Anatomy of Ghosts," condemning belief in the supernatural. He is then hired (or coerced) by an aristocratic woman to cure her son's insanity by persuading him that the wife of his dead friend is not haunting him. But as Holdsworth discovers, the young man is connected to secrets far worse than specters in the hidden societies of Cambridge University.
Hyperion. 432 pages. $24.99. ISBN: 9781401302870

Guardian (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"Taylor leads us into the claustrophobic world of Jerusalem as though unpacking a series of Russian dolls, starting in London before slowly closing in on Cambridge, Jerusalem and, at the centre of the story, the sinister society at its heart. ... In The Anatomy of Ghosts Taylor has captured, with his habitual economy and precision, the maelstrom of the 18th century and its myriad contradictions." Clare Clark

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Andrew Taylor has written almost every kind of genre fiction, from village mysteries to psychological thrillers. But his mandarin style and eccentric imagination seem best suited to the historical crime novel." Marilyn Stasio

Observer (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"Andrew Taylor's The Anatomy of Ghosts provides just that [a good old-fashioned ghost story], as grieving bookseller John Holdsworth is coerced into attempting to disprove the existence of ‘an alleged apparition' in a corrupt, crumbling 18th-century Cambridge college. ... Taylor is an old hand when it comes to historical thrillers and this latest outing shows him on chillingly good form." Alison Flood

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The plot gears clank loudly in this setup, and it occasionally seems that Taylor must justify his title by having practically everyone in the novel haunted by otherworldly presences. ... [O]nce we're past the contrived setup, Taylor makes plausible the intricate interconnections that unravel to expose a diseased society and some very nasty people." Wendy Smith

Critical Summary

Reviewers have come to expect the best from Andrew Taylor's historical mysteries. As the Guardian critic pointed out, he does not write "whodunits" so much as "whydunnits"--mysteries that ultimately help explain why people in the past thought and behaved the way they did. Most reviewers argued that Taylor did just that in this novel. While a few critics felt the plot was somewhat strained, they felt his descriptions and characters were spot-on, which helped readers imagine the mix of superstition and Enlightenment that characterized 18th-century England.