Circle of Shadows is the fourth in Imogen Robertson’s Crowther and Westerman series, historical crime novels set in the late Eighteenth century. Unlike the three earlier books which are all set in England, this sees Harriet and Gabriel taking their investigative skills onto the Continent as they find themselves racing to the small Duchy of Maulberg to save the life of Harriet’s brother-in-law, Daniel Clode, who has been accused of murder and is due to be executed.
Their inquiries soon show that the death in which Daniel is involved is only the latest in a series of murders so skilfully carried out that most have been filed away as suicide or accident and as a result their talents are turned to discovering what all the victims have in common and who else might be on the murderer’s list.
The presence in the local university of a student who has dedicated himself to the service of a masonic like society provides the reader, at least, with a clue. This society claims to be dedicated to removing borders and spreading peace and goodwill across the European continent. However, like so many before and since, what its members are really concerned with is power and inevitably in their pursuit of the kind of influence they seek they have made many enemies. It is amongst these people that Harriet and Gabriel must seek for the solution to the crimes.
Robertson is a good writer and she is not concerned simply with plot. In this books she explores the numerous ways in which married love can manifest itself, be that through the early misunderstandings of two innocents in the first days of their shared life or the obsessive and unhealthy love of an older man for his younger second wife. And indeed, obsession and the damage it can do both to the one afflicted and those around him is another prominent theme.
Like many crime series, while each book stands on its own as an entire, well rounded narrative, I believe that the reader gets more from having read the books in order. Not only does it help in respect of being able to accurately site the characters and their varied relationships but, when the writing is good (and in Robertson’s case it is) it also allows you to appreciate the ways in which those characters have matured through the experiences that the earlier investigations have brought about. Consequently, if you are new to this series I would recommend going back to the beginning and starting with Instruments of Darkness. You will then have the pleasure of working your way through all four excellent novels.