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The Anatomy of Ghosts

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1786, Jerusalem College, Cambridge

The ghost of Sylvia Whichcote is rumored to be haunting Jerusalem ever since student Frank Oldershaw claimed to have seen the dead woman prowling the grounds and was locked up because of his violent reaction to these disturbed visions.

Desperate to salvage her son’s reputation, Lady Anne Oldershaw employs John Holdsworth, author of The Anatomy of Ghosts—a stinging account of why ghosts are mere delusion—to ...

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The Anatomy of Ghosts

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Overview

1786, Jerusalem College, Cambridge

The ghost of Sylvia Whichcote is rumored to be haunting Jerusalem ever since student Frank Oldershaw claimed to have seen the dead woman prowling the grounds and was locked up because of his violent reaction to these disturbed visions.

Desperate to salvage her son’s reputation, Lady Anne Oldershaw employs John Holdsworth, author of The Anatomy of Ghosts—a stinging account of why ghosts are mere delusion—to investigate. But his arrival in Cambridge disrupts an uneasy status quo as he glimpses a world of privilege and abuse, where the sinister Holy Ghost Club governs life at Jerusalem more effectively than the Master, Dr. Carbury, ever could.

And when Holdsworth finds himself haunted—not only by the ghost of his dead wife, Maria, but also by Elinor, the very-much-alive Master’s wife—his fate is sealed. He must find Sylvia’s murderer, or else the hauntings will continue. And not one of this troubled group will leave the claustrophobic confines of Jerusalem unchanged.

CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger winner Andrew Taylor returns with an outstanding historical novel that will simultaneously keep the reader riveted, and enchant with its effortless elegance.

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Editorial Reviews

Wendy Smith
Andrew Taylor's brooding thriller…[is a] dark and gripping tale.
—The Washington Post
Marilyn Stasio
…pitches us into dynamic but rowdy 18th-century England, when superstition still held a grip on rational minds despite the advent of the Enlightenment.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Set in England in 1786, this masterful thriller from British author Taylor (Bleeding Heart Square) opens on a tragic note. In the months since London bookseller John Holdsworth's little son, Georgie, slipped into the Thames and hit his head against a coal barge with fatal results, Holdsworth's grief-stricken wife, Maria, has repeatedly visited the site of the boy's death. Until her own untimely death, Maria spends most of her days with a woman who relays messages from Georgie from the beyond. At loose ends, Holdsworth, who's written a treatise debunking ghost sightings, accepts an assignment from Lady Anne Oldershaw in Cambridge to prove to her son, a Jerusalem College student who claims to have seen a ghost, that he's suffering from a delusion. Fans of Michael Cox and Charles Palliser will relish this sophisticated period puzzle, which takes an intriguing look at the age-old question of the reality of ghosts. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Award-winning British crime fiction author Taylor (The American Boy; The Stain on the Silence) sets his latest novel in 18th-century Cambridge, England, where the elite collegiate aristocracy is investigating a sighting of a local woman's ghost. John Holdsworth, bookseller and author of a book discounting the existence of spirits (appropriately itself titled The Anatomy of Ghosts) is asked to inspect two mysterious drownings at the college. As Holdsworth probes the institution for answers, he is met with disdain by the close-knit academic society. More a haunting exploration into the underside of an intellectual hierarchy than a ghost tale, Taylor's latest delivers an original historical mystery that uses the language and attitude of the period in a fresh way.Verdict While the supernatural element is used more as a mechanism to weave the mystery rather than being the focus of the story, the result remains a successful piece of compelling suspense literature and sophisticated historical crime fiction.—Carolann Curry, Mercer Univ. Medical Lib., Macon, GA
Kirkus Reviews

University life circa 1786.

After his son's accidental drowning and his wife's despairing suicide, London bookseller John Holdsworth is threatened by insolvency. But a commission from Lady Anne Oldershaw to catalog her late husband's library, bequeathed to Cambridge's Jerusalem College, may signal an upturn in his fortunes. Lady Anne adds one stipulation, however. Holdsworth must locate her son Frank and return him home. Holdsworth is duly dispatched to Cambridge, where he's billeted with Lady Anne's goddaughter Elinor and her ailing husband, Dr. Carbury. Holdsworth locates Frank, who's been under the care of a specialist in mental disorders since his induction into Jerusalem College's Holy Ghost Club and subsequent tormenting by the ghost of beautiful, abused Mrs. Whichcote, whose husband Philip heads up the Ghost Club's debaucheries. More scandal threatens Jerusalem: Even as Dr. Carbury is in his death throes, a frisson of lust attacks Elinor every time she thinks of Holdsworth; a promising scholar is accused of thievery; a lackluster student purchases a thesis proposal; and another woman's death can be laid at the Ghost Club's doorstep. Moreover, Holdsworth finds the library collection mostly inconsequential, and his fondness for Elinor seems disloyal to his wife's memory. Before academe settles down again to intellectual pursuits, blackmail, nocturnal trysts and a re-evaluation of a ghost sighting will surface.

Eighteenth-century Cambridge life exquisitely detailed by Taylor, recipient of the Crime Writers Association Cartier Diamond Dagger award (2009).

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780141018621
  • Publisher: Viking Penguin
  • Publication date: 2/28/2011
  • Pages: 471
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrew Taylor is the author of many crime and suspense novels. The recipient of the Crime Writers' Association 2009 Cartier Diamond Dagger for sustained excellence in crime writing, Taylor has also won the CWA's John Creasey Award, an Edgar Scroll from the Mystery Writers of America, an Audie, and two CWA's Ellis Peters Historical Daggers (a unique achievement). His website is www.andrew-taylor.co.uk.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 15 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 16 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 31, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Long and slow

    After the death of his son and wife John Holdsworth closes his book store and is hired by Lady Oldershaw to catelog her late husbands library and more importantly to help her son who seems to have had a mental break down at school. John soon finds all is not as it seems at Cambrdge what with "the Holy Ghost society" and sightings of ghost. The book has a plot that draws you in but I kept finding myself lost and bored and waitting for the story to get back on track. I did something I never do in that I put this book down three times to read other books because it was just too drawn out. Lose fifty pages and this would be an excellent book. The author writes defined characters and settings with a well thought out plot with twist it just lacked a little whittling.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 26, 2010

    One that should not be missed

    I was lucky enough to be picked to review The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor. I want to thank Hyperion for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest write up.

    1786 England, a college setting, a secret society, blackmail, murder and madness, the perfect combination for the perfect book. What could be better? Not much if you are writer Andrew Taylor. Taylor offers up a compelling read, one that will have you staying up late wondering how it will all play out.

    Poor bookseller John Holdsworth has been hit with a triple tragedy. First his young son drowns, and then his wife in a fit of despair kills herself in the same water. During this horrible time Holdsworth, having spent his saving on a book collection, looses it and his shop in a fire. In his anger and grief Holdsworth writes a book debunking ghosts and those who prey on others grief. Most copies are lost in the fire, but there is one person who does have a copy; Lady Anne Oldershaw, a wealthy widow with an unusual request. She asks now destitute Holdsworth to catalog her husband's book collection and bring home her son who has been committed to a mental hospital. Frank Oldershaw has had a breakdown after seeing a ghost while in college. Holdershaw must find out what Frank really saw and help him recover his wits. This leads Holdershaw into a world of secrets, murder and blackmail. All masterfully crafted and laid out by Taylor.
    This was one of the best books I have read in a long time. I am unfamiliar with Taylor, yet he has a long list of book titles to his name. Anatomy of Ghosts is Taylor's 28th book and it shows. There are no glaring plot holes, his characters are fully flushed out, and his writing is engaging. Once I started the book I had a very hard time putting it down. Crime lovers will enjoy him as he keeps you guessing right up to the end. I thought I had it figured out, and was pleasantly surprised when I found I was wrong. This was not a case of a red herring (which I dislike), rather Taylor allows the reader to assume who the murderer is only to surprise the reader with the truth. It was there all along, and had I been a little more observant and less caught up in the story I may have figured it out. This was the beauty of the book, I enjoyed the story. I enjoyed how it played out in front of me. I did not distract myself with the mystery; I just sat back and let Taylor tell his tale. What more can you say of a book? What more would you want? Anatomy of Ghosts should not be missed.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 23, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Ghost Writer

    This is the story of John Holdsworth, a down and out bookseller in late eighteenth century England, who has recently lost his young son to a drowning accident. This is soon followed by the suicide by drowning of his despondent wife. He had written a book entitled, "The Anatomy of Ghosts" to try and shake his wife free of the belief that she could communicate with her dead son through a charlatan medium. John's attempt to bring her back to reality only exacerbated the problem and may have driven her over the edge. The first third of this novel thus moves at a somber pace. Things begin to look up for John and us when he is saved from a downward spiral, by the request of a Lady Anne Oldershaw to catalog her deceased husband's library in preparation for donating it to Cambridge University. There is a catch, however. Lady Anne's son, Frank, who had been attending Jerusalem College, has suddenly insisted that he has seen a ghost, had a breakdown and has been committed to a doctor's care. As Holdsworth seems to be an expert on debunking ghosts, Lady Anne wants him to bring her son back to her and cure him of these foolish and dangerous thoughts. Here the story switches to the life in the college and mystery surrounding Frank's encounter with his ghost. The author sets the scene and mood of the story nicely with a myriad of details of late eighteenth century English life in the cities and colleges of the time. The pace of the book is slow at first, but picks up as the cast of characters and story unfold. There are a number of interesting plot lines and twists to keep our interest until the grand denouement. I found the book a bit long. It would perhaps have benefited from some tighter plotting, but overall was an enjoyable read with enough tragedy, romance, mystery, and intrigue for everyone. This book was provided for review by the good folks at Hyperion books.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2011

    Missed the mark

    I just finished this book and I was a little disappointed. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, so I was excited to read this one, but it just seemed to be a little lacking in pace and conclusion. I agree with other reviewers, it starts out a bit slow and cumbersome. You don't need the cast of characters, it's self-explanatory as you read. I almost put it down a couple times, but it does pick up after a bit. I don't want to spoil the ending for anyone, but it seemed a little hastily wrapped up, especially compared to the relative detail in the rest of the book... Sort of an "and done!" ending, leaving me with the sense of wait, where's the rest of it? For story development, great. Ending? Lame. Start, a little boring. I haven't read other novels by this author, but perhaps one of them may be a better start.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 22, 2011

    Interesting story that lacks definitive ending

    The Anatomy of Ghosts is set in 1786 Cambridge at fictional Jerusalem College. The author does a great job of storytelling, and gives great description of imagery and scenery. The story and characters are all quite interesting, and the author goes to great lenghts to unravel the plot. I did not mind the length of the book, however, was somewhat disappointed with the ending. Mr. Taylor spent so much time developing the story and climax, but in the end, there was not much of a climax. The end felt rushed; hurried. There is not a definite, satisfying conclusion to the story, and I am not a fan if books that leave you guessing about what happens to all to the main characters. Also, the title may be somewhat misleading, as the "ghost" may not make as big of an impact as one might think from the title (at least for me). Overall, the book is worth the read, especially on a cold and rainy day.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 24, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Keeps you guessing

    I just finished this book last night it starts slow but once it draws you in it is hard to put down. It is a good mystery period piece that will keep you guessing to the end.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 2, 2013

    I liked it a lot but my favorites are the Lydmouth series.

    I liked it a lot but my favorites are the Lydmouth series.

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    Posted June 1, 2011

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