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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Imogen Gets Better and Better, April 28, 2012
By 
Suzanne Cross "Bibliophilos" (Santa Fe, New Mexico United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Circle of Shadows (Paperback)
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
4.0 out of 5 stars Alchemy, politics and murder, April 30, 2012
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This review is from: Circle of Shadows (Paperback)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Murder Not So Obvious!, June 18, 2013
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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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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Better than the Last, July 21, 2012
By 
LBM "Elbyem" (Toronto, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Circle of Shadows (Paperback)
Imogen Robertson's books are always enjoyable, but I think this novel was a distinct improvement on the last book in the series, which featured too much traveling hither and thither and less focus on the (very engaging) characters.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another winner by Imogen, August 31, 2013
By 
Divascribe (San Antonio, TX) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Circle of Shadows (Paperback)
Circle of Shadows continues the Crowther/Westerman mystery-solving duo. This time they had for the Continent to help a dear friend beat a murder charge. There's plenty of skullduggery as Crowther and Westerman do their usual fine job of getting at the truth. This is a satisfying read that advances the series well. I'm looking forward to the next one!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging mystery!, November 20, 2013
By 
Victoria Campbell "avid book reader" (Finksburg, Maryland United States) - See all my reviews
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This is an excellent series, with believable, delightful characters. The setting is wonderfully descriptive but the mystery is engaging and unusual. Not a boring moment in the whole book! I heartily recommend it!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "...a gentleman almost smothered by the splendor of his cravat...", November 7, 2013
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These books only keep getting better and better. In this fourth in the series it is 1784, and English gentlewoman Harriet Westerman and anatomist Gabriel Crowther receive news that Harriet's sister's new-made husband, Daniel Clode, has been arrested for murder in the Duchy of Maulberg. Harriet and Gabriel decamp there forthwith and plunge into an investigation that is less about the bodies piling up than it is a conspiracy infesting not only the highest levels of the duchy but reaching into all the courts of Europe as well.

The true test of any novel, as I know I say over and over again, is how thoroughly the reader is drawn into the novel's world, and here you can hear the swish of Harriet's skirts over parquet as she prowls the gilt-encrusted halls of the Palace of Ulrichsberg. There are some great characters, like Daniel's engaging jailer, who says of his prisoner

If you whip him away I shall have to hope the duke finds some scribbler of seditious pamphlets to lock up here for a few months, or I shall be deprived of civilized company. No doubt some young man will publish something insulting for the wedding. I trust in that.

I'm not sure Robertson meant me to love the Duke as much as I do, but who wouldn't?

"Swann, the lovely Mrs. Westerman recommends mercy. Is your heart still of stone?"

Harriet saw a flash of irritation cross Swann's face. "Crime against a husband is a manner of treason, sire. If you will be merciful, do not agree to her breaking on the wheel, but she must certainly die."

The duke smiled lazily. "One would think after all these years, Swann, you would have learned not to say 'must' to me..."

When Krall, the local district officer, and Crowther go to interview an alchemist, who is reluctant to admit them into his inner sanctum, Crowther is moved to admiration of the alchemist's ability to articulate his displeasure.

He had always thought German a pleasing language to swear in. It had the proper supply of consonants.

And then of course the adorable and acute spy Jacob Pegel, agent of Harriet's arch enemy (or is he?) Manzerotti

They did what everyone with power does in my experience, Mrs. Westerman. They spend most of their energies trying to hang onto it.

In this season of sequestration and government shutdown, Congress, please note. Not that most people in power are given to self-examination or even rational thought, for that matter, as this novel underscores.

There are some great descriptive lines, thrown away in a single sentence just to make sure we are paying attention.

...the door to the duke's study was opened again, and a gentleman almost smothered by the splendor of his cravat beckoned her inside.

There are some what I can only describe as very creepy automata, also known as Robots 1.0, secret societies bent on revolution, or so they tell themselves, and a serial killer as selfish and self-absorbed as he is insane, although I must say the first victim who initiates the entire cascade of events is entirely deserving of revenge. (Trying to be as obscure as possible so as not to give anything away.) Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must-read for lovers of intelligent historical mysteries, 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
4.0 out of 5 stars Circle of Shadows, 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
4.0 out of 5 stars Crowther and Westerman do it again!!, 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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Circle of Shadows
Circle of Shadows by Imogen Robertson (Paperback - April 1, 2012)
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