Theft of Life by Imogen Robertson

I am indebted to Frances Gough of Headline for providing this novel for review.

I am utterly ashamed to confess that I have not previously read any of Imogen Robertson’s novels featuring Gabriel Crowther and Harriet Westerman, but I will be rectifying that omission immediately. That said, I did not need the earlier novels to enjoy this read as a one off.

‘Theft of Life’ is an exquisitely written murder mystery story based in the murky world of London in May 1785. An ex-slave trader is found dead, partially clothed and wearing a slave mask. The race is on for Harriet and Gabriel to discover what has happened to him.

The attention to detail and the research that has obviously gone in to the background of slavery underlying this narrative makes it an utterly absorbing and convincing read. Keeping true to the niceties and manners of the time so that the text is historically accurate, whilst managing to write an accessible, entertaining and thoroughly satisfying story takes considerable skill and I felt Imogen Robertson excels in ‘Theft of Life’. I really felt immersed in London of the late 1700s. Whilst there is no shying away from a very disturbing era of British history, there is, very frequently, a warmth and humour in this book that prevents it from being ‘preachy’ and makes it all the more effective.

I loved the details of day to day life and London as a setting, being easily able to picture what was described. Similarly, I found the characters utterly real; some thoroughly despicable, others completely charming. Underpinning the several exciting twists and turns in the story is real human emotion including love, revenge, jealousy, hatred, fear and madness.

The structure of the novel over one week gave it a coherence and pace that I felt was truly cinematic. ‘Theft of Life’ is a book that can be read and enjoyed on many levels. I loved it.

Theft of Life

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