The Anatomy of Ghosts

Written by Andrew Taylor
Review by Marilyn Sherlock

1786. John Holdsworth, a small-time bookseller, was faced with near bankruptcy following several unfortunate incidents: the drowning in the Thames of his small son, Georgie, followed by reversals of fortune with his business culminating in a fire at his bookshop and the suicide of his wife, Maria. Following the deaths of his wife and son he had written a book, The Anatomy of Ghosts, which had come to the attention of Lady Anne Oldershaw. Lady Anne has problems of her own. Her son, Frank Oldershaw, a student at Jerusalem College, Cambridge, has been confined to a local mental hospital following his reaction to two deaths at the college. She employs John Holdsworth on two counts: to find out the reason behind her son’s illness and to assess the College Library before she decides whether or not to donate her late husband’s library to the College.

From there the story deepens, gathers pace and twists and turns in many directions. I found it a compelling read, the need to know what happens next being very strong. The characterisation was good, but I felt that the author had tried just a little too hard to reconstruct mid-18th-century English so that it got very ‘wordy’ at times. I found a couple of the solutions were a little woolly, and translate it to Oxford in the 20th century and I am not sure that Morse would have altogether approved of the final solutions. However, I enjoyed the story and would recommend it.