Fresh Meat: A Dark Anatomy by Robin Blake

A Dark Anatomy by Robin BlakeA Dark Anatomy by Robin Blake is an historical mystery featuring Titus Cragg and Luke Fidelus, and set in 1740s England (available May 22, 2012).

Have you ever wondered what it would have been like if Sherlock Holmes had investigated a mystery in the halls of Downton Abbey? I’ll admit that thought never crossed my mind, but, after reading A Dark Anatomy by Robin Blake, I got a taste of the answer. And I liked it.

In the year 1740, around the little town of Preston, Titus Cragg, coroner and attorney, receives a ghastly request while eating breakfast. He is to come at once to Garlick Hall, the estate of Remille Brokletower. The body of Dolores Brokletower, the mistress of the house, has been found under the branches of an old oak tree. She is wearing riding clothes, but her horse is nowhere to be found. The state of her body seems odd, and, in the words of the messenger boy sent to fetch Mr. Cragg, “it seemed like Mistress dove down from the sky. Her face and hands were in the earth.” Oh, and her throat has been cut from ear to ear.

Curious though he is when questioning the young lad about the death of Mrs. Brockletower, Mr. Cragg cannot help but ask after the whereabouts of Miss Brockletower. This would be Sarah, Remille’s sister. Blind since birth, she and Cragg were enveloped in a childhood love affair, but that was torn away when Remille sequestered the handicapped woman in the estate, alone, with no contact to the outside world.

Naturally Cragg agrees to investigate the death of Dolores in preparation for the inquest and, once started, becomes embroiled in the secretive environment of the Brockletower estate. It’s here where the Downton Abbey influence, and that of Upstairs/Downstairs, come into play. Together with his friend, Doctor Luke Fidelis (see that Holmes influence?), Cragg starts to ask questions, some with multiple answers, depending on the person talking. Dolores was from the West Indies, a skilled horsewoman, and not much liked by the servants who keep order in the estate. Multiple suspects emerge as well, including Barnabus Woodley, an architect, who is expanding the estate, and the band of gypsies squatting near the grounds. And then there’s Mrs. Marsden, the head housekeeper. Think of Mrs. Hughes from Downton if you like, or any number of other characters you imagine as a head housekeeper. She’s out to help Cragg and lets on that Sarah Brockletower herself is the one who sent for Mr. Cragg’s services.

A Dark Anatomy is Robin Blake’s first novel to feature Titus Cragg. Blake, who has written extensively for radio, has a 21st century pace to what is a historical mystery. Where some authors might move languidly through the prose, stopping the action to provide mini history lessons on some bit of research gathered, Blake wraps up his history in the action. If a character in his novel knows a particular historical fact, he doesn’t pretend otherwise. In some ways, it’s a bit like the Sherlock Holmes stories, where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle doesn’t waste time explaining what a hansom cab looks like, he just puts Holmes in one.

For all the slower pace of the investigation itself, Blake moves the prose along well. Told in first person, there are pages in which Cragg questions various people, uncovering clues along the way. Blake often dispenses with the attributions, creating short sentences, propelling the reader forward in an almost Hemingwayesque way. It makes for rapid reading and an easy turning of the pages.

“But if he is concerned about that, he could have buried her in the forest, at or near the spot where he killed her.”


“He may have meant to, but was interrupted.”

“I think it unlikely. That part of the forest is hardly frequented and, besides, no witness, no interrupter, has come forward.”

Fidelis could not apparently think of a reply, at least for the moment. “Well, it needs more thinking about,” is all he said. “And I have plenty of time to do that tomorrow, while riding into Yorkshire.”

“Ah yes, Yorkshire. What takes you there?”

“A little business,” he said.

I suspected another reason.

“Is that so? Does not female society come into it at all?”

Fidelis laughed.

“I go to look at a medical instrument, Titus, a new kind of forceps to assist in childbirth that has been invented there. Perhaps I shall buy one. And there is a patient to visit on the way.”

“Those matters do not preclude the lady, but only leave less time for her, I suppose.”

I looked sidelong at my friend, but he would not meet my glance.

“It is all supposing, Titus,” he said airily.

“So will you, in all this business, have the leisure to help me discover if Brockletower’s story is truth or falsehood?”

“I may, Titus. You cannot hold an inquest as matters stand, so anything I do learn in the next few days will be of help to you.”

A Dark Anatomy is the first in a promised series that features Coroner Cragg and Dr. Fidelis. I, for one, am looking forward to their future investigations and more trips to 1740s England.


Vanessa L. Parker is a jewelry artist and avid reader. You can see her work at Betoj Designs.

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