Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Instruments of Darkness Excerpts

Well, hello again.  Should I have used an exclamation point there to convey happiness and excitement?  Or... would that have been overly eager and kinda annoying?  I initially thought the latter, but then regretted it, almost immediately, and thought maybe I did need to do it to convey that I was actually in a pretty good mood and that this post would be light.  Huh.  Oh, my son has a cold and I slept in his room, so that my husband wouldn't be kept up all night by his coughing and then I was, in fact, kept up all night with him and now I'm extremely tired.  So there's that.

Alright.  I've had out this library book for ages and now I need to return it and not pay the fines.  I've been wanting to transcribe some passages that I thought were perfection - both for just being well written and for the excellent job they did in establishing the characters and more, their world.  I'm gushing over here, is what I'm saying.

The book, Instruments of Darkness: A Novel, by Imogen Robertson is great.  It is of course set in the 18th century.  I'm realizing I have a real jones for the 18th century.  Huh again.  And it is, of course, a murder mystery. My favorite (read: only) genre!  I'm thinking from here on out, I'm going to look exclusively for 18th century murder mysteries.  Saves time and guarantees satisfaction.  Only not.  There are tons of lame historical mysteries out there, so really, it's the opposite.  It's like discovering gold when I find one that's both well written and actually entertaining.  Gold, I say!

So this one's gold.  As is the follow-up novel, Anatomy of Murder (I've picked an excerpt from that book too to rave about later).  I'm going to order Island of Bones today.  Today!

Without further ado, two excerpts.  Uhhhh, you don't really need to know too much, except that they're both from towards the beginning.  Mrs. Westerman found a body on her estate.  Her husband is a Captain in the British Navy and is away.  Mr. Crowther is a kind of early forensic scientist.  They've just met.  She asked him to come to see the body, even though they had never met, because she had read an article he published concerning forensics.  Mostly, he stays indoors with his specimens and avoids people.  Have I mentioned that I love him?  Cause I do.

Here we go - Imogen's words will be in italics.  Any annotation I make will be in normal font.  This first part is after the body's been moved to Mrs. Westerman's barn and is ready for examination.

Crowther turned to the corpse again, wondering if Miss Rachel Trench (sister to Mrs. Westerman) had ever been to sea, and if not, what she thought of the family now gathered round her.

He had been expecting Mrs. Westerman to leave him at this point, but she did not.  Instead, she folded back her habit from her wrists, and picked up an apron to cover her skirts.  Catching his look, she gave him a wary half-smile.

"You did say it would not be a full examination."


"Then I think I shall stomach it."  She moved to the body and folded away the linen cover, then, her attention caught, she bent down to examine the hand.

Crowther had studied with some of the best surgeons and teachers of anatomy in Europe.  They were busy practical men, their inquisitiveness their main feature, their niceties blunted by their commerce with the dead and the necessary dealings with the underworld of bodysnatchers and resurrection men.  He had seen any number of corpses cut up and manhandled, the floor slippery with blood and air thick with human effluvia while a dozen men in powdered wigs jostled over a body to examine some peculiarity pointed out by their instructors.  He thought now that he had never seen a sight as shocking, or as strangely beautiful, as Mrs. Harriet Westerman taking the stiff fist of the corpse between her own white hands and stooping to examine the dead flesh.  Its gray, waxen emptiness alongside the delicate coloring of her face and intelligence in her eyes, seemed a metaphor of divine spark.  If she had breathed on that hand and made it warm again, and alive, Crowther would have accepted the miracle and believed.

Now that's how you introduce characters, mother fuckers.  (Sorry, Imogen, I felt cursing necessary.  Big fan.)

Another excerpt and then I have to stop.  There's not too much you need to know here, except about the bit at the end.  The local children have been told or decided that Mr. Crowther is something of a ghoul.  I like this section, because once again, it's a wonderful way to introduce the household.  Really, elegantly done, in my opinion.  OK, then.  Here we go, again:

Crowther and Harriet were walking up to the French windows that gave onto the main lawn, when they heard a sharp slap and a child's cry of surprise.  Crowther looked to Harriet, who hurried over the last few steps to the house.  He followed.  As they stepped into the room, Crowther saw Rachel, her cheeks flushed, holding a boy of about five by the arm and vigorously shaking him.  There was already a red mark rising on the little boy's cheek and he was clutching a paintbrush in his free hand.  Rachel's voice, as she spoke, was quavering and hot.

"Stephen, you naughty boy!  How could you?"  The boy caught sight of Harriet in the doorway and, shaking himself free, ran over to her and buried his face in her skirts, crying lustily.  Miss Trench saw them both and gave a start.  She held out her arms to Harriet in appeal.

"Oh Harry, I am sorry.  I did not mean to, but he has painted black marks all over my picture just out of  badness - and it was just as I wanted it!"

Harriet knelt to better embrace the boy and, having removed the dangerous brush from his hand, she handed it wordlessly to Crowther and stroked her son's hair.  His crying slowed a little.  He put his face into her neck and mumbled something between sobs.

"What is it, Stephen?  I can't hear you,"  Harriet asked him softly, still not looking at her sister.

"Crows.  She forgot the crows," he said, then his voice rising to a bitter wail, "I was helping!"  He tucked his face into Harriet's neck again, his small hands gripping the collar of her riding dress in determined fistfuls.

Rachel looked more stricken than ever.  Crowther remained in the shadows of the drapery, as if Harriet's curtains might provide some protection from the emotions flying around the room like the Chinese fireworks at Vauxhall.  He looked down at the dirty brush between his fingers.

Harriet waited until the little boy was calmer and spoke to him gently.

"Perhaps Aunt Rachel did not want crows in her picture, Stephen.  Have you thought of that?  You would not like it if she painted all your soldiers yellow, now would you?  Even if she thought they looked better that way."

The little boy's sobs stopped suddenly, and he pulled away from his mother as he considered this horrid possibility.  He shook his head.  She took his small face in her hands and smiled at him, then kissed him on his hot smooth forehead.

"Well, you do not seem much hurt, young man.  Apologize to your aunt and perhaps she will not paint on your things in revenge."

Stephen shot a glance toward Rachel, then walked carefully over to her.

"I'm sorry, Aunt.  I thought it would look nicer with crows."  He thought for a moment and extended his hand.  Rachel knelt down and took it with great seriousness.

"I didn't realize you were helping, Stephen.  And I am very sorry to have been so cross.  May we be friends again?"

"You won't paint my soldiers yellow, then?  Because they should all wear red coats."  She shook her head.  Crowther found he was smiling a little, and stepped clear of the curtains.  Stephen grinned with relief and pounced forward to kiss his aunt on the cheek, then struggling free from her embrace, turned and started with surprise as he caught sight of Crowther hovering in the doorway behind his mother and twisting the brush between his fingers.

"Who are you, sir?"

"I am Gabriel Crowther."

The little boy considered for a moment, then his eyes widened considerably.

"Do you eat children, sir?"

Crowther stooped slightly from the waist, till he had brought his thin body to the point where he could look the little boy in the eye.

"Not as often as I would like."

Stephen looked at him with awe and pleasure, thrusting one small fist to his mouth.  He then announced to the world in general that Mrs. Heathcote had made cake and he would be allowed to eat the crumbs from the tin, and raced out of the room.  Harriet stood and smiled at Crowther, then, her eyes growing more serious, she turned to her sister.

"I'm so sorry, Harriet.  I didn't mean, I-"

Harriet looked irritated, and held up her hand.  "This is not like you, Rachel."

It goes on, of course, I just thought I'd stop here.

I also thought I'd make a list (for myself, as well as for any reader) of my favorite historical mystery writers, with a link to their books at Amazon.  My inability to remember names constantly astounds me, especially because I like these people so much.  Huh.  Good gravy, I'm tired.  Until next time.

Judith Rock:

Ariana Franklin:

Margaret Frazer:

Imogen Robertson:

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