A Dark Anatomy
Robin Blake’s latest novel, set in 18th-century Lancashire, takes the reader on a journey through time and technique. Blake deftly recreates Preston, a medieval charter town whose character was subsequently erased by industrialization. The reader is challenged to imagine justice in the absence of modern investigative tools and forensic science.
This is the mission with which Preston’s Coroner, Titus Cragg, is charged. When the squire’s wife is murdered, Cragg investigates using the sharpest tools at his disposal: observation, perception, interpretation and Luke Fidelis, Preston’s young doctor. Instead of relying on trite resolutions based on intuition, the supernatural or coincidence, Blake allows Cragg and Fidelis to explore the events in a realistically non-linear fashion. The obstacles raised against Cragg’s investigation remind us that, although culture, industry and architecture change over time, human nature is somewhat constant.
In this tale told in the first person, we accompany Cragg as he and Fidelis investigate. Cragg’s voice is accessible yet evocative, and Blake’s prose is quintessentially English, with a rhythm and accent pervading the reading experience. The reader is transported to Preston as the story entices the senses with the smell of leather, flickering firelight, and crisp temperatures and integrates nuances of Lancashire class structure, racism and sexism.
Although some may feel that the plot twist is broadcast prematurely, Blake’s writing more than compensates for that slight weakness. As the first novel of a trilogy, Blake has laid a solid foundation upon which to build. Cragg and Fidelis have space to grow and develop in the next books. I look forward to the next visit with these newfound friends.