The Anatomy of Ghosts, cover

Andrew Taylor's The Anatomy of Ghosts is both a ghost story and a murder mystery set in the cloistered world of a Cambridge college in the late 1700s.

The leading character of the The Anatomy of Ghosts, John Holdsworth, is a former printer and bookseller who has fallen on straitened times because of his son and wife’s deaths. His wife sought solace with the ghost of their dead son until she, too, dies. As a consequence he is highly sceptical of ghosts.

Holdsworth writes his book , The Anatomy of Ghosts, to debunk ghostly sightings and to show them as mere delusion but his dreams are haunted by his dead wife.

Ghosts and Murder Create a Fascinating Mystery

Lady Anne Oldershaw’s son, Frank, is mentally disturbed by the ghost of a dead woman he has seen prowling around the grounds of Jerusalem College in Cambridge. Lady Anne employs John Holdsworth to investigate under the initial pretext of assessing and valuing her husband’s library, some of which she wishes to donate to the college, which her family had founded.

Holdsworth is an outsider, both socially and physically, in the closed community of an eighteenth century Cambridge college and society where social standing, reputation and propriety are all important. Nevertheless, it is as much about appearance as reality and there is a seamy side to the privilege, intellectual standing and the pursuit of power in this introspective world.

John Holdsworth retains his scepticism of ghosts and needs to find the murderer of Sylvia Whichcote, wife of the President of the sinister and powerful Holy Ghost Club. It is a secretive society and its power is wide ranging and abused. Only by doing so will Holdsworth be able to restore Frank Oldershaw to health by laying her ghost which haunts the young man.

Richly Detailed Picture of a Cambridge College and 18th Century Society

In The Anatomy of Ghosts Andrew Taylor draws a rich picture of the world of a Cambridge college and society at the end of the 1700s. The characters, too, are well rounded and the hierarchies at all levels clearly delineated. The Anatomy of Ghosts is not just about the rich and powerful but it also draws in the college servants. The more senior of which, although they have only modest social status, can wield significant power over the apparently rich and powerful members of society. They can do so because of the importance, and fragility, of appearance and personal standing.

In John Holdsworth, if he chooses, Andrew Taylor has created a thoughtful character that could do for the eighteenth century what Cadfael did for the medieval period, Holmes for the nineteenth century or Morse for the twentieth. Apart from his detection skills Holdsworth is a real person with human frailties, he is haunted by his wife, her death and by the attraction of the Master’s wife even though he is not her social equal. All the factors skilfully weave their way through the fabric of the story of The Anatomy of Ghosts


A Literary Crime Novel for Serious Readers

Whilst The Anatomy of Ghosts is not a difficult read, it has a complexity that will appeal to serious readers. It therefore transcends the simple novel as it gives readers many facets of human experience to consider. In that respect, it would make an excellent reading group choice. As there are so many different aspects to explore it would encourage wide-ranging discussion and discovery of elements missed on first reading. The Anatomy of Ghosts is a most enjoyable book.

Andrew Taylor is the author of the best seller The American Boy and Bleeding Heart SquareHe was the winner of the 2009 Crime Writers Association Cartier Diamond Dagger, the Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Anatomy of Ghosts (2010, ISBN: 978-0-718-14751-8) by Andrew Taylor is published in hardback by Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin, at £18.99 (Can$ 38).


First appeared on Suite101

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