"The more he knew of Jerusalem, the more he glimpsed beneath its surface strange and unsettling shapes he had no wish to examine closely."
John Holdsworth, London printer and bookseller, is the author of the pamphlet The Anatomy of Ghosts, a treatise disproving the existence of revenants, written by John after the death of his wife and small son. His work has brought him to the attention of Lady Anne Oldershaw who is a patron of Jerusalem College, Cambridge, and whose son Frank - an undergraduate there - is rumoured to have seen a ghost, an event which has apparently 'turned his mind'.
Lady Anne sends Holdsworth to investigate the stories of the dead woman haunting the college grounds with a view to proving that there is no substance to the spectral sightings and thus returning her son to health, but in Cambridge John finds ghosts of his own which he must lay to rest and an enclosed community with a sinister side which operates unchecked.
Andrew Taylor's new novel The Anatomy of Ghosts is set in 1786, and its late eighteenth century world is skilfully and subtly depicted. The book begins with an initiation ceremony for The Holy Ghost Club, a select dining society whose members look out for their own and whose rites are excessive to say the least, but this body led by Philip Whichcote - whose wife's ghost is said to have been seen - is protected by the college which in turn has its own customs, privileges and secrets. The sole woman in residence at Jerusalem is Elinor Carbury, wife of the Master, someone who finds the college both "her prison and her sanctuary", but when John Holdsworth arrives to examine the cause of Frank Oldershaw's mania, Elinor finds his presence threatening and liberating in equal measure.
A detective story, a love story, a ghost story all beautifully combined in page-turning form, I was utterly gripped by this intriguing and intricately plotted book. The college - its physical nature, its ethos, its hierarchy - is so well-constructed and richly drawn, and that creates the atmosphere of menace and suspense which drives the narrative. This is a fine work and an extremely good read, my first Andrew Taylor but certainly not my last.
PS. If you'd like a second opinion on this book, here's Adèle's review (scroll down).