Take a small town in Cumbria, England, in 1783. Add a few generations of witches, an island holding an ancient tomb, a long-dead body discovered in the wrong place, a kidnapping, a golden artifact encrusted with jewels—and murder. Then you have Island of Bones, Imogen Robertson’s wonderful third historical suspense novel that features the eccentric anatomist Gabriel Crowther and his friend and associate in detection, Harriet Westerman.

The reclusive Crowther is a dense and complicated character, vaguely Holmesian in his approach, with an exterior that’s hard for his acquaintances to penetrate. Westerman has her own legacy of guilt and sorrow, but she’s just about the only person who knows how to handle her compatriot. Together they form one of the most intriguing duos in contemporary detective fiction. Theirs is a bond formed through an equal fascination for the particulars of crime, a commitment to finding the truth of a matter and a habit of forthright speech.

Crowther and Westerman form one of the most intriguing duos in contemporary detective fiction.

In Island of Bones, readers will at last discover part of Crowther’s backstory, though his past continues to haunt him. Invited by his sister to investigate a body found in a tomb (where it didn’t belong) alongside its rightful occupant, Crowther and Westerman travel to Cumbria, where they revisit the old estate where Crowther was raised and from which he fled 30 years earlier hoping never to return. The two amateur detectives are soon caught up in a very current evil that reaches back to past treacheries, and one that, when revealed, must also serve to lay some of Crowther’s family ghosts to rest.

This atmospheric, beautifully structured novel contains a host of well-drawn characters, including Crowther’s temperamental sister and wayward nephew; Harriet’s son, Stephen; and two of the book’s most attractive characters: a wanderer named Casper and his talking jackdaw, Joe. The intricate plot, though occasionally confusing, is laced with historical fact, and a note at book’s end explains some of the English background underlying the story.

Readers who love 18th-cenutury British history will not go amiss with this novel—a great read for a snowy twilit afternoon.

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