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Author of the Month

Name: Andrew Taylor

First Novel: Caroline Miniscule

Most Recent Book: The Anatomy of Ghosts

'...a beautifully, sumptuously written crime novel showing the darker side of man.'

Synopsis:
Having recently tragically lost his wife and only child, John Holdsworth is a man at his lowest ebb. His wife having squandered John’s money on charlatans who profess to speak to the dead, Holdsworth finds himself widowed and broke. Selling his small business to keep the wolves from the door he is suddenly given a commission from an unlikely source.

Lady Anne Oldershaw is intrigued by Holdsworth’s small book called ‘The Anatomy of Ghosts’, his thesis on the supernatural, written in anger at the way his dead wife was given false hope. Now Lady Anne, under the guise of asking for his expertise on valuable books wants him to visit her sick son who languishes in a madhouse, his mind twisted by what he claims to have been the ghost of a woman recently found dead in the pond at Jerusalem College.

With many misgivings Holdsworth takes on the task, not realising that he will soon be sucked in to a small world where status matters to each and every man in Jerusalem and where he will meet a woman who may be his very salvation…

Review:
‘The Anatomy of Ghosts’ is a wondrous Gothic tapestry, each strand smoothly and darkly interwoven, presenting a broad portrait of college life in 1786. With a nod to the great Gothic writers like M. R. James, Wilkie Collins, Le Fanu et al, Taylor sets his readers on a journey into the dark passages and passions of this shady time in history. Amongst the dark oak walls and the flickering candle-light, this writer slowly and surely unfolds his dark tale.

With great deftness that only a writer of long standing can hope to achieve, Taylor holds the rerader's attention without having to resort to high speed car chases (not really possible in 1786!), nor with any superfluous gory details. It is simply a beautifully, sumptuously written crime novel showing the darker side of man. With uncanny accuracy, Taylor offers his reader the sounds, the smells and tastes of that far-off time when excess was an everyday thing, whilst others starved to death. He also tells of the machinations of men in such a tiny community who could bring about your ascendancy or your destruction.

Most of the characters are bigger than life itself, my favourite being Dr. Carbury whose excess and flatulence seemed to know no bounds. And as for John Holdsworth, there finally seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel so that you feel that although some may escape punishment all is well once more with the world. ‘The Anatomy of Ghosts’ is a real luxury; a well crafted feast of a novel with both crime and supernatural themes running through the threads of the story. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and found myself craving to go back to it to feel the tingling of my spine as I walked the dark corridors of Jerusalem once more.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating



Questionnaire

1) What makes a truly great crime/thriller novel?
Absorbing characters, a narrative you can’t stop reading, themes that linger in your mind after you’ve finished - much the same as any other good novel, but usually with the addition of a corpse or two, and maybe a mystery.
2) Now that the crime/thriller genre represents the largest section of fiction sold in the UK and Ireland, do you think we do enough to celebrate the quality and diversity of the writing?
I’d like to see good crime novels enjoying the same critical esteem as any good novel should do. But in a way that’s the icing on the cake. The main thing is that crime fiction sells because readers want to read it.
3) ‘The Anatomy of Ghosts’ is a nod to the great masters of the ‘spine tingling chiller’. What gave you the idea to write a book in the vein of your latest?
Several years ago, my agent asked me if I’d ever thought of writing a ghost story. I said no, of course not - after all, I write crime novels. But the idea festered in my mind until I found a way to combine it with a historical crime novel.
4) The great love for a good ghost story seems to be experiencing a renaissance. Can you explain why this would be?
The short answer is no. But sometimes I wonder whether we should thank Richard Dawkins and other vociferous atheists for the renaissance of the ghost story. Somehow their reductionist views don’t quite explain everything, however hard they try. And ghosts, for many people, are a sort of shorthand for the unexplained, for all the things we don’t know.
5) The main part of the story is set in Jerusalem in Cambridge. Through the writing I felt there to be a love/hate element towards the great city. Does this reflect your own feelings in some way?
I used to know Cambridge well, though I haven’t seen much of the place for over 30 years. Love/hate is too strong a term: it’s more that I don’t believe one should sentimentalise the past.
6) How much research did you have to do to bring that particular time period to life? I was quite fascinated by the different levels of class in Jerusalem with the ‘gyps’, ‘sizars’, etc. Did you know about this classification of its pupils and their ‘mates’ and do you know if it is still the same class system today?
I did a lot of research - though the public life of the 18thc university is well documented, it’s surprisingly hard to find out the little domestic details - where the loos were, how long a stage coach took to London, what the servants ate, etc. I’m glad to say the class system I describe no longer exists. Cambridge is still elitist, but on the whole it’s an elitism of the intellect which has nothing to do with who your father was or how much money you have to spend.
7) Why did you make your main protagonist, John Holdsworth such a sceptic of the supernatural in your ghost story?
Because he was that sort of man. Scepticism was his attempt to cope with his own ghosts.
8) Some of the characters in ‘The Anatomy of Ghosts’ are extremely eccentric, my favourite being Carbury. Was this deliberate?
Eccentric? It’s true that Cambridge colleges, like any other enclosed society, breed eccentrics very easily. And they were - and are - full of very ambitious people. That said, I can’t help feeling we are all pretty weird, though other people’s weirdness is much more noticeable.
9) Besides the Lydmouth series, you seem to hop from one time period to another, from contemporary to the distant past. Would you get bored if you only wrote in the present or do you like the challenge of bringing the past back to life?
I like to vary the settings - the same setting all the time would indeed get rather boring. I enjoy trying to write reasonably realistically about the past, without ramming the detail down the reader’s throat. I’ll probably write another book set in the present soon, though it’s not easy to be plausible nowadays because of GPS, mobile phones, DNA, etc.
10) In a dream scenario who would you like to direct and star in a film/TV adaptation of your book?
For Holdsworth I need someone with physical presence and even a touch of menace about him. Not handsome. He’s not rich or well-dressed but he can dominate a room as soon as he comes into it. A younger Russell Crowe could have done the job, I think.
11) What is your favourite movie adaptation of all time of a crime/thriller novel?
I know the original was Daphne du Maurier’s short story, but can I have Don’t Look Now (1973) with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie? Maybe. There are so many good ones.
12) What is your favourite crime/thriller novel of all time?
Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley. Maybe.