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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2012
Considering the pressures to produce a-book-a-year, Imogen Robertson has become one of my favorite writers of historical mysteries and her most recent, CIRCLE OF SHADOWS, was a great pleasure and possibly her best-written to date. I never find her padding her stories or letting her characters drift even as she meets her deadlines - they always seem to develop and flourish. Unless you've started with "Instruments of Darkness," our introduction to Gabriel Crowther and Mrs. Westerman, it would be hard to appreciate how delicately the relationship between a noble anatomist with deep secrets and the wife of a British Navy captain, both shrewd investigators of murder, could be so satisfying, but it is. Similarly, her plots are never humdrum, while there is a hint of romance, she never drowns us in it, like a wet salad dressing. Her adventures become both more complex and more satisfying. Every book, thus far, has added to the sense of creating a three-dimensional world in late 18th century England (and elsewhere) while retaining a cast of familiar characters we can genuinely watch grow and develop. I many times read "what pleasures lie in store for you!" in various blurbs for historical mysteries, and they are not always right - but in this case, they are.

Circle of Shadows travels, for the first time, outside of England and does it with authority. One of our favorite characters has committed an unthinkable murder - except that he remembers nothing about it. Set it a small German princedom a few years before the French Revolution, Crowther and Mrs. Westerman are once again on the trail of probably the most bizarre murderer yet, although I didn't guess it until the very end. Lovely writing, fun plots, spies, alchemists, good development, and an exotic flourish. Well done! I already wish I knew what adventures lie ahead with the next adventure.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 30, 2012
This is the 4th book in the series featuring Mrs. Harriet Westermann and anatomist Gabriel Crowther. Harriet's sister, Rachel, is on her wedding tour with her new husband, Daniel Clode, when the couple runs into trouble on a visit to the dukedom of Maulberg. When Daniel is accused of murder, Rachel summons Harriet to help clear his name. What follows features alchemy, radical Freemasons, court politics, automatons and the return of the castrato Manzerotti.

Characterization is a strength of Robertson's, and she's deftly expanding her ensemble. My favorite is still Island of Bones, but this is a strong entry in a wonderful series. I'm already waiting impatiently for the next.

(A note on the Kindle edition - several sentences were dropped in the formatting of the prologue, but I saw no other problems in the rest of the text.)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2013
Imogen Robertson's historical mystery series featuring Harriet Westerman and anatomist Gabriel Crowther constitutes one of the most intelligent examples of the genre out there. Circle of Shadows contains all of the features that make this series so rich and rewarding: a complicated plot; a well-researched, detailed 18th century setting; and a well-drawn cast of characters that feel true to the period.

In this fourth installment of the series, Harriet and Crowther travel outside of England for the first time, when they are called to one of the German states to investigate a murder. Harriet's sister Rachel and her new husband, Daniel, had been touring Europe for their honeymoon when Daniel was arrested for killing a woman. Harriet and Crowther have to identify the murderer in order to free Daniel, but what they discover during their investigation is political intrigue and the handiwork of a madman.

One of the things that I love about Robertson's novels as a whole is how detailed her 18th century world is. She's obviously researched the period deeply. It pays off in the realistic feel of her descriptions of the physical setting of the story, as well as her descriptions of the manners and mores of the characters. The 18th century is not a period that is used often in historical mysteries, so it has benefit of novelty, too.

Another plus for me is the deep cast of characters. Harriet and Crowther show up in every novel, of course, as do their friends and family, but so do other people that they meet during their investigations. Individuals that other authors might treat as minor characters come to life in Robertson's novels. For example, an important character in the second book in the series is Jocasta Bligh, who plays a key role in the mystery of that book; her background then gets explored in Robertson's third novel. Manzerotti, the spymaster who drove the plot of Book 2, makes a return appearance in this book and becomes a more fully rounded character. For me, the net effect of these recurring characters is to enhance the feeling that this is a completely realized world where characters have an existence that lives on beyond the pages of any particular novel. I hope that Pegel, who appears in this book as a young recruit into Manzarotti's spy ring, will show up again in another book in the series. He's just too potentially rich a character not to make a return!

The one drawback of this approach is that Robertson's novels have to be read as a series to most fully appreciate them. I wouldn't recommend starting with this book for readers who are new to Robertson's work. They should start at the beginning and enjoy the series as it develops.

Really, anyone who enjoys a well-written historical mystery should read Circle of Shadows and the other books in the series. I'm pretty sure you'll be glad you did!

An ARC of Circle of Shadows was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 28, 2013
CIRCLE OF SHADOWS is a rich meal of a book, full of historical details, unique characters, and an intriguing mystery.

I was initially attracted to the book because of the main character, Harriet Westerman. I was quite curious as to how a woman in the late 1700s could be a detective. But to my surprise, I liked every single character in the book, good and bad, even the minor ones. The author has a real talent for fleshing out characters. I cared about all of them in some way, from Harriet to the daughter of the ballet dancer. I wanted to know more about everyone, too, and I think the author did a good job of integrating interesting and relevant backstories into the plot. Harriet, though, was probably my favorite. I adored her dry humor and quick mind.

And the plot! I admit, I don't usually read mysteries. They just aren't my favorite. But I liked CIRCLE OF SHADOWS so much I want to read the rest of the Crowther and Westerman series. The author wove a compelling story, bringing in everything from forensics to lost family members to secret societies to court politics. I think there's something for everyone here -- there are even automatons, which I so did not expect to see. I had no idea how the murder mystery would tie up, and I admit to being quite surprised by the ending. It was a fantastical mystery for sure, but one that I believed because of the way the author wrote it.

I read CIRCLE OF SHADOWS over a few weeks. Usually I speed through books, but the writing style -- heavy on detail and scene setting, and almost formal -- made me slow down. This was a plus for me, because it was refreshing to spend longer than a day or two reading a book. I do advise taking an hour or so to get into the book when you begin it, so you can get a good footing with the characters and start of the big mystery.

Although CIRCLE OF SHADOWS is book four in a series, you don't have to have read the other books to understand this one. That was one of the other big pluses for me, because who likes to try and recall details from books they read years ago? Not me! The author does a very nice job of filling you in on what you need to know, if you're new to Harriet and Crowther and their world. But if you aren't, you won't be bogged down by information dumps. There's a good balance.

I would have liked a dramatis personae to help me keep track of the large cast of characters. I sometimes had to flip back to remember who someone was, but that's a small quibble.

I'd recommend this book if you like mysteries, because its superbly done. I really liked that the author didn't "write down," but expected the reader to solve things right along with Harriet and the rest of the characters. It's always cool when you remember a detail you initially thought was insignificant, and then later see that it's a big clue if you paid attention! I'd also recommend CIRCLE OF SHADOWS if you like historical fiction, because although Maulberg wasn't a real duchy, the author drew inspiration and information from real German states during the appropriate time period.


Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 2, 2013
The adventures and mysteries of Mrs. Harriet Westerman and anatomist Gabriel Crowther are a hidden gem in the literary world. The three prior books have shown a growth in independence and strength in Mrs. Westerman and in this fourth book; Circle of Shadows, she comes into her own.
The prior novels showcase the abilities of Crowther and his medical deduction, but in Circle of Shadows Mrs. Westerman steps forward with insight and deduction and for the most part, Crowther follows. Each novel stands well on its own but I suggest picking up the first, Instruments of Darkness and follow the timeline of the stories to see the full development of the characters.
In Circle of Shadows, Daniel Clode is found incoherent and apparently drunk in the Duchy of Maulberg, his wrists cut. Worse is the dead body of Lady Martesen a few feet away. Clodes wife Rachel writes England for help from her sister Mrs. Harriet Westerman and her friend Gabriel Crowther.
Crowther and Westerman rush to the German province where court intrigue and political maneuvering stand between them and the release of Daniel. Slowly they unravel a mystery that reaches farther than one dead body and the future of Daniel Clode. A mystery to overthrow the Duchy of Maulberg itself.
The puzzle of the tale is intricate and well woven. The history of the region and time researched and verified. The book itself breathes of its place and time. Though slow moving to start with the tale picks up steam and as it begins to unravel you are absolutely hooked and will follow Harriet Westerman and Gabriel Crowther to its bitter end. Toss in a bitter enemy who becomes something of a reluctant ally and you will find the growth of Harriet Westerman showcased to its fullest.
What I enjoy most of the Westerman and Crowther series is that there is no romantic involvement between the two characters. There is respect and kindness and love, but that of true friends who have seen horrible things together and have found one another there at the end to care for and support one another. At times it is not clear who is stronger and who is cared for.
That may change in future novels but for now it is enough that they know they are there.
A well written and strong novel of mystery.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 8, 2013
First Sentence: The room is dark, lit by only a single candle on the surface of a rough wooden table.

Widow Harriet Westerman receives a letter from her newly married sister, Rachel. In Germany, where they are touring, Rachel's husband, Daniel Clode, was found in a locked room with the body of Lady Martesen. Although very confused, seeming to have attempted suicide and having no memory, Daniel is imprisoned and awaiting execution for murder. Harriet, with her friends; anatomist Gabriel Crowther, Daniel's employer Owen Graves and Michaels, landlord of the local inn who insists on overseeing their travels, travels to the Duchy of Maulbery. There they find a Duke preparing for his wedding, an enemy, intrigue and several more deaths.

Robertson has a very intriguing style. The prologue both compels and slightly baffles us. The wonderfully evocative descriptions of the story's first chapter informs us that a crime has occurred so that the intrigue is presented, possible ramifications established, and many of the characters introduced with an overview of their backgrounds established. It is a very satisfying beginning.

The characters drive the story, and they are characters about who we very much care. For those of us who are Jane Austen fans, one sees shades of Mrs. Croft (Persuasion) and Colonel Brandon (Sense and Sensibility) and the characters of Harriet and Crowther. Harriet is very much a person one would like to be. She has strength, but not false courage. She is intelligent, traveled and capable. ..."Harriet tilted her head to one side. "I was going to stab him with one of Mr. Al-Said's files, but he provided a pistol so I almost shot him instead. I hate to say it, but I think having the opportunity to do so, and not killing him, has done me a great deal of good." Each of the characters is memorable and significant to the story and it's hard to say enough about them without this review becoming as long as the book itself. There isn't a cameo player among them, even if their role is small.

Robertson's voice and style are very special. There is elegance to her writing. Her descriptions are evocative; her ability to convey emotion is visceral. Her voice is neither modern yet doesn't focus on being of the period. It is conveyed through scenes and narrative, such as Harriet her musing on the comparison of her beginning an intimate with her late husband, as opposed to what may possibly have been her sister's experience. Her dialogue is always to be appreciated ..."Are you encouraging me to speculate, Crowther?" ..."I suppose I am to a degree. I will try not to do so again."

The plot is not a simple one. Beginning from the first page, we are uncertain as to the road on which we travel. One must pay attention to the details, and it is very well worth so doing. As with the characters, every aspect is significant. This isn't a story to skim, but neither is one tempted so to do as each page is engrossing.

"Circle of Shadows" is an excellent read. For me, it is the best book, so far, in the series. That is saying quite a lot as this is a series I truly love.

CIRCLE OF SHADOWS (Hist Mys-Harriet Westerman/Gabriel Crowther-Germany-1784) - Ex
Robertson, Imogen
Pamela Dorman Books/Viking, 2013
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 4, 2013
This series just gets better with each outing by Crowther and Westerman - I hope the books will keep coming! Robertson's puzzles are intricate and compelling, her characters are multi-faceted and interesting, and she draws the reader in with fascinating settings, as in this case which takes place in a German duchy.

In February of 1784 Gabriel Crowther and Harriet Westerman rush to the aid of Harriet's younger sister Rachel and her new husband Daniel; while on their wedding trip to Europe they've been caught up in a murder in the duchy of Maulburg and Daniel has been arrested. Upon arrival they find an autocratic duke in his overdecorated Gothic castle surrounded by an intrigue-ridden, sycophantic court; they also find themselves face-to-face with an old nemesis, Manzerotti, the castrato opera singer/spy Harriet holds responsible for the murder of her husband. Through dogged questioning and with the help of the German investigator Krall (and even hints from Manzerotti) they begin to see a pattern of questionable "accidental" deaths surrounding the court. Meanwhile, in a parallel plot line, a quirky, brilliant young spy masquerading as a university student is hunting down a revolutionary secret society seeking to overthrow established governments and install members of their cabal to create their version of utopia...

Phew! As always, the plot is very involved and full of intrigue and questionable loyalties, but as another reviewer pointed out here, one of the pleasures of reading this author is she expects her readers to be intelligent enough to follow along; I admit when I would pick the book up again after an interval I sometimes had to wonder, now who's this guy again? But then I was drawn in again and the chase was on! I highly recommend this excellent series to historical mystery and fiction fans who can appreciate the wonderful, fully realized characters (even the minor players), the atmosphere of claustrophobic opulence, and the exciting mystery that works on so many levels.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2013
Lately, everything I desire to read is a series, and a suspense-filled historical mystery at that. I want that back story, the intimacy among characters, rich historical details, and a strange murder to be solved. Luckily for me, I found all those characteristics in Imogen Robertson's CIRCLE OF SHADOWS.

Harriet Westerman is home at Caveley with her family attempting to forget the sorrowful events of the past few months. Hurtful rumors have plagued Westerman, and she has done her best to pretend none of it has bothered her. All she wants now is quiet, but when a letter arrives from her sister, Rachel, the peaceful home life for which Westerman longed evaporates. Rachel's husband, Daniel Clode, has been accused of murder, and Rachel needs her help. Westerman calls for her close friend, Gabriel Crowther, who is just as bothered and dismayed by the news as Westerman. Crowther, a reclusive anatomist and Westerman's partner in several investigations, accompanies her to Germany and the Duchy of Maulberg, a strange little court that prides itself on its opulence, but is a place they will need every observance of etiquette to remain safe.

While traveling to Germany, Westerman and Crowther look over the facts of the case and find it all too strange to believe. Daniel had been found with the body of Lady Martesen, a favorite of the Duke of Maulberg, completely incoherent and bleeding from a cut on his wrist. The theory of the local district investigator is that Daniel felt remorse after killing Lady Martesen and tried to take his own life --- a theory that Westerman and Crowther adamantly don't buy. Daniel remembers nothing of the evening, especially not the murder or how he even came to be in the room with the dead woman. Crowther, a man all too familiar with the details of murder from his anatomy work, knows that the woman wasn't killed by Daniel; she was in fact drowned, a pronouncement that throws the entire investigation into upheaval upon their arrival.

Westerman and Crowther, along with their traveling companions, are quickly schooled in the court etiquette, which is rather more complex than what they're used to in England. It will take every bit of decorum not to be thrown in jail with Daniel in the eccentric court, where asking questions seems to be a nonstarter.

Making the case even more dangerous is the appearance of a man Westerman hoped never to see again alive --- Manzerotti --- who ordered the death of her beloved husband. Manzerotti is a spy caught up in the same case as Westerman and Crowther, although no one but him knows the details. And he isn't sharing.

The dynamic between Westerman and Crowther is what makes this series so successful for me. Westerman is outspoken and has no trouble saying what's on her mind and acting on impulse --- an unusual trait for a woman of the 18th century. Crowther, on the other hand, would prefer to be alone with a corpse, shunning pretty much everyone but Westerman. Their relationship is odd but makes the cases in which they get involved so much more interesting for their personalities. The appearance of Manzerotti shakes Westerman's rather stable emotions in this case, and while Crowther isn't the most effusive of men, he is when it comes to protecting and helping Westerman --- or at least keeping weapons out of her sight when Manzerotti enters a room.

I've read previous books in the Westerman/Crowther series, and if you have as well, you'll be happy to know that this one lives up to the others. While the setting is interesting, it's also slightly creepy, the way a murder setting should be. If you're a fan of Robertson and the series, CIRCLE OF SHADOWS is a good addition and one to be savored.

Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon June 18, 2013
This is the fourth in a series of historical suspense novels by this author and it's quite unusual. It involves two sleuths who are British and here attempt to solve their first criminal mystery outside of England, in Germany in 1782. Harriet Westerman is an intelligent, fearless gal whose past history with murder has left some pain and a bit of shadow about her public image. Gabriel Crowther is a bit of a recluse who speaks his mind at all times, no matter how offensively it is taken, but he is also bright and an anatomist, fascinated with the scientific properties of the body for criminal analysis and healing as well. Now they learn that a good friend, Daniel Clode, is accused of murdering Lady Martesen. They immediately leave for the Duchy of Maulberg in German!
First, they discovered that Daniel Clode has been acting like someone who is insane and then they are shocked to find that Lady Martesen was probably killed not by smothering, as originally thought, but by drowning. But how can someone be drowned and have no sign of water anywhere on the clothing or body? Westerman and Crowther are surprised by the fairness of the investigation in Maulberg, a place that is rather an enigma since it is ruled by an absolute dictator who allows them room for investigation perhaps with a slightly hidden financial motive.
Meanwhile other characters such as the brilliant mathematician Pegel appear on the scene and discover the presence of a secret group that is equated with the Free Masons but is not anything like them in reality. in fact, the plot that begins to unfold turns out to be one that could change the face of European governments, one country at a time and not in a healthy productive way!
As the murder took place during the annual Shrove Tuesday celebrations, Daniel Clode was like all other celebrants wearing a mask, one that is part of the plot to undo him as he will be executed if found guilty. But there's much more to this mystery and the above summary is only a tad of all the clues that are gradually revealed with just the right amount of tension and intrigue, including a notable amount of period description and detail that is very interesting as well as the investigation.
Imogen Robertson is a talented writer who has penned a mystery others have compared to Anne Perry for detail and Tess Gerritsen for forensic evidence. This reviewer couldn't agree more! Mystery fans and historical fiction fans will love this novel for sure! Very well done and highly recommended!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 18, 2013
This review is based on an advance review copy I won through a Goodreads First Reads giveaway.

I really enjoyed this historical mystery featuring an Englishwoman sleuth and set in 18th century Germany. The mystery revolves around murder in high places in the court of the fictional Duchy of Maulberg.

The sleuth, Harriet Westerman, is a young Englishwoman trying to live quietly with her young children after the "trials, scandals and losses of previous years." She is drawn into a murder investigation in Germany when her brother-in-law, Daniel, is accused and faces execution. She is aided in her efforts to solve the case in Daniel's favor by her companion, Gabriel Crowther, a reclusive anatomist "quite rich enough to never leave his house."

The characters are wonderful, the setting ably drawn and the suspense is fine.

This is the fourth in Imogen Robertson's series of Harriet Westerman mysteries, and I look forward to catching up with the first three.

This novel is an advance copy, and I don't know if there will be any changes before publication, but I hope that all but the (few) typos will be spared. Anyone who enjoys European historical mysteries, stories about aristocrats and investigations of secret societies will like this novel very much. Four stars.
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