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A Dark Anatomy: A Mystery (Cragg & Fidelis Mysteries) Hardcover – May 21, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Blake, a British art historian and longtime producer and presenter for Capital Radio in the UK, sets the first in a projected trilogy of historical mysteries in the small town of Preston in Lancashire. It’s 1740. Robert Peel has yet to invent the police. Many towns are self-governing, and Preston has only a coroner-lawyer to collect and present evidence for inquests. It also has a population who largely regard crime as evidence of witchcraft. The squire’s wife has been found thrown from her horse with her throat slashed in the woods above a stately home. Coroner Titus Cragg must gather evidence for the inquest. He enlists the help of his friend Dr. Luke Fidelis and starts interviewing the panicked and superstitious members of the squire’s household. Cragg soon uncovers a welter of hatred for the wife, Dolores Brockletower, and the family itself. More murder and disturbing bits of body-snatching follow. This is a fascinating examination of how crimes could have been solved before the nineteenth century gave us the rudiments of forensic science. Cragg and Fidelis make a terrific detecting duo. Unlike many current mysteries that attempt to ape eighteenth-century language by writing floridly, Blake’s writing is direct and crisp. In addition, his knowledge of an eighteenth-century backwater just shaking off medieval superstitions is deep and engaging. A solid winner. --Connie Fletcher

Review

An impressive whodunit. (Publisher's Weekly (starred))

Fascinating . . . Cragg and Fidelis make a terrific detecting duo . . . Blake's knowledge of an eighteenth-century backwater just shaking off medieval superstitions is deep and engaging. A solid winner. (Booklist (starred))

Blake uses this setting to show the times, the people and events in a book you won't be able to put down. Flawless . . . a fascinating mystery with psychological underpinnings. The next book will be eagerly anticipated. (RT Book Reviews)

Blake starts his story with a bang and keeps the reader engaged to the end. (MysteryTribune.com)

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Product Details

  • Series: Cragg & Fidelis Mysteries (Book 1)
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books; Reprint edition (May 22, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1250006724
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250006721
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,273,398 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I was born in Preston, Lancashire, in northern England, which is also the hometown of my fictional characters Titus Cragg and Luke Fidelis. But the place in which I grew up is very different from the 18th century town that they inhabit: theirs is a lost pre-industrial world, a vibrant market town and social centre with just two or three thousand inhabitants a few decades before "King Cotton" and the arrival of factory production.

Cragg is the local coroner, who also practises as an attorney, and his friend Fidelis is a young physician with advanced ideas. There is nothing Dr Fidelis loves more than a challenging puzzle, but Titus Cragg is passionate for justice. In a society without a police force, and far distant from the vast metropolis of London, the two men operate as a formidable team, investigating suspicious local deaths and often falling foul of the well-to-do merchant oligarchy that runs the town strictly in its own interests.

There are three published mysteries in the series so far: A Dark Anatomy, Dark Waters and The Hidden Man. All are available in the United States from Minotaur Books.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In Lancashire, England, 1740, the small township of Preston is rife with superstition and paganism. When the mysterious, reclusive Dolores Brockletower of Garlic Hall is found in the woods with her throat slit from ear to ear, some say it is the work of the Devil. Rumors of witchcraft and lycanthropy abound. The prime suspect is Dolores's strange husband, Squire Ramilles Brockletower. Titus Cragg, lawyer and part-time coroner, must ask his friend Dr. Luke Fidelis to help him uncover the dark secrets responsible for Dolores's death--secrets that will eventually destroy the lives of several more inhabitants of Preston.

"A Dark Anatomy" is one of the most macabre, bizarre historical mysteries I've read. Readers might think it was penned by Edgar Allan Poe. It has the type of shocking, grotesque revelations one would find in a grindhouse film. The novel's ending left me quite disturbed, and confused, concerning the existence of moral absolutes. I sympathized with poor Dolores Brockletower who was cruelly labeled a monster because she didn't fit the mold of human perfection. Surrounded by poor, ignorant peasants who were ruled by an iron fist of religious hypocrisy, the poor woman probably feared for her life; her reclusion was understandable.

The main protagonist, a young, robust Titus Cragg, seems to be an amiable fellow. He and his wife Elizabeth are pleasant, down-to-earth people who attend church, cultivate a garden and dispense food to the poor. They live comfortably in this caste system but don't take advantage of it by abusing others. The much older, wispier Dr. Luke Fidelis is more than happy to assist his friend Titus during Dolores's autopsy, a relatively new procedure in the field of forensic science, which is often viewed as sacrilegious and unholy.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Carol9999 on September 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Robin Blake really seems to know 18th century England, and I very much enjoyed the skillful way he worked period detail into this mystery. I also liked the main character, Titus Cragg, who's quite sympathetic and likeable. Overall, I liked the book and would recommend it to fans of historical mysteries, even though I don't think Blake has quite hit his stride as a mystery writer.

One of the weak points of the book was that I guessed Dolores Brockletower's killer very early on and consequently, the story became fairly tedious before I got to the end. So for me, the pacing needed to be tightened up somewhat. Another quibble is that some of the physical scenes - where event A leads to event B which in turn leads to event C - are a bit clunky.

However, even though I think the pacing and action could use some polishing, the book is entertaining enough that I'd give this author another chance. A Dark Anatomy is a promising first mystery.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Smokey VINE VOICE on June 5, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
In "A Dark Anatomy: A Mystery", author Robin Blake has created some wonderful characters, a crime -- or two -- with aspects that are truly surprising, and a book filled with subtle humor. It is 1740 in Georgian England where lawyer Titus Cragg serves as coroner for the town of Preston. Cragg takes the responsibilities of his office seriously.He presides over impeccably arranged inquests, although he must continuously stave off the attempts of Mr. Grimshaw, Bailiff of Preston, to take charge of crimes that fall under the coroner's purview. Wisely, Cragg relies on the medical knowledge and the insight of his friend Dr. Luke Fidelis to determine the cause of a death and, if necessary, suggest a perpetrator. Cragg does not, however, determine the outcome of an inquest; he makes it clear that this determination is left to the appointed jurors. He, as coroner, merely ensures the jurors hear all of the evidence.

Unfortunately, Cragg's orderly professional responsibilities become cloudy, maybe even murky, when Dolores, wife of Squire Ramailles Brockletower of Garlick Hall, is found dead in the woods, her throat slit. The Squire is an important person, and it would be most convenient if his wife's death were an accident. In fact, Cragg would very much like it to be an accident. There are just those one or two niggling little inconsistencies...

There are a great many good things about this book. The 1740 mystery setting is refreshing. Blake is very good at describing Georgian, and explains in an afterward any liberties he has taken for the sake the novel. The mysteries are intriguing, the investigations Cragg undertakes carefully and interestingly described, and the writing style well-suited to the setting. Although Cragg can be, as he admits, a bit pompous, he is a delightful character -- one of the most enjoyable new fictional characters I've read about in a long while.

More, please.

Five stars.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
First Sentence: According to the case notes, a checked against my private journal, it was on Tuesday the 18th of March, 1740, that a succession of disturbing events ran their course through the life of our tidy Palatinate town of Preston.

Coroner Titus Cragg is called to view the body of Dolores Brokletower, wife of the local squire. The body is moved to the ice house until an autopsy by Cragg's friend, doctor Luke Fidelis, can be done and then an inquest called. Before that can happen, the body disappears and more deaths occur. Who is trying to prevent the inquest and why?

I really like Blake's voice and that the story is told in first person. While that's not usually my favorite, it really works here as it helps provide a sense of time; a bit before Jane Austen. There is even a nod to "Dear Reader" of Charlotte Bronte. Yes, there is a mild portent, but I was willing to forgive it.

There is delightful, natural humor incorporated in the narrative, which adds to the appeal of the protagonist. "I let her [Cragg's wife] sign of the cross go without comment. She was always more the papist when she had been with her mother." Cragg's discussions with Fidelis on medicine versus religion, and with his wife on witchcraft, religion and spiritualism are very well done. They a provide perspective on attitudes and science during that time and the information is well incorporated into the story through both dialogue and the narrative of Cragg.

Blake has created wonderful characters in Cragg, his wife, Elizabeth, his clerk Furzey and friend Fidelis. These are characters about whom we come to care and want to know more. What's nice is that both they, and the less than appealing characters, are fully dimensional and interesting.
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