The Anatomy of Ghosts

By Andrew Taylor
Binding:Hardcover
Publisher:Hyperion, (1/25/2011)
Language:English



Average Rating:
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3.50 out of 5 (4 Clubie's ratings)


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1786, Jerusalem College, Cambridge: they say Jerusalem is haunted by Mrs. Whichcote's ghost. Frank Oldershaw claims he saw her in the garden, where she drowned. Now he's under the care of a physician. Desperate to salvage her son's reputation and restore him to health, Lady Anne Oldershaw employs John Holdsworth, author of The Anatomy of Ghosts, an attack on the existence of ghostly phenomena. But his powers of reason have other challenges. Dreams of his dead wife and Elinor, the Master's wife, haunt him. At the heart of it all is the mystery of what happened to Sylvia Whichcote in the claustrophobic confines of Jerusalem.

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Reese's thoughts on "The Anatomy of Ghosts"
updated on:3/15/2012

I enjoyed this read as both a historical piece as well as an unfolding mystery with intriguing plot twists. Lots of them. Plus, I am a freak for the possibility of ghosts and people's stories about ghosts and what that means.  Many, many discussion opportunities with this novel: There are plenty of interesting characters(luckily there is an index in the beginning to help a little)...especially Holdsworth, the incredilby flawed main character.  There are the politics of society, class and university, the representaiton of the women characters and there is the vagaries of mental illness.  I though it was very well written for all complexities of the story but the ending was left wanting with loose ends for characters.

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Sam's thoughts on "The Anatomy of Ghosts"
updated on:2/29/2012

With practicality and logic as his weapons of choice, we bear witness to Holdsworth ghost busting late 1700's  style. With mysteries and apparitions within mysteries and deceptions, this multiple plot line book will have you wondering until the end what is really going on in this crazy college town. Taylor's ability to capture the vernacular of the period was superb! It also had me glad to be reading it on a Kindle so I could easily look up what precisely some words meant. Overall an interesting read with a well developed story line… but not a book that you can't put down.

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Book Junky's thoughts on "The Anatomy of Ghosts"
updated on:2/29/2012

Writing style = great - the language of the time was excellently done. This is the best part about this book.
Writing = a tad wordy and over descriptive for me… on more than one occasion I just thought, "get on with it, we don't need to know these details…"
Story = interesting enough. Lots of layers which did make for a rich unpredictable story.
Discussable point for book club = ah, overall, mildly discussable. Though I love how he discussed how both the future and the past seemed to haunt the characters. This is a very discussable topic and I think will make for a good book club discussion.
Ending = truly made me mad. I just invested how much time reading this story and you only really let me know what happened to a couple characters!!! You got to be kidding me! Yes, the "mysteries" were wrapped up, but what is going to happen to the characters?! Some authors love to do this, thinking, "Well, this way you get to decide for yourself what happens…." COP OUT! I read so the author can tell me a story. Not so I can make one up myself!  Some authors may leave the conclusion for the characters open ending to set up a sequel, but if that is what is going to happen with this book, I'm afraid finding out what happens to them will not be worth the wordy time.

All that said, overall I did enjoy the reading and the concept of the "hauntings" that each character was dealing with, but I just wish he would have finished writing the book!

Oh, one more word for warning - this book starts out weird… and about 30% through I thought, "something better happen soon or I'm going to go crazy" - but it does pick up and the weird beginning is not so weird once you get into the book.

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Ceci's thoughts on "The Anatomy of Ghosts"
updated on:2/29/2012

A woman in peril, a death, the hiring of an investigator. This standard mystery setup, along with a twist of ghost, nicely kicks off THE ANATOMY OF GHOSTS.  Although “kicks” is probably too vigorous of a description for the pace of this mystery, which takes its time in laying out its ingredients, bringing them all together, and then, finally, delivering a kicker of an ending. For quite some time, I wondered, “Where is the mystery . . . and that ghost?” So much time is given to introducing so many characters, university politics, and seemingly minor details. But then I remembered I was not watching Law and Order.  Not every story needs to be introduced, developed, and resolved in just 60-minutes. The fascination of this story is that slow-build, the layering of detail, the interaction among the characters, and the unexpected twists and loops that occur in both plot and character. All those characters, politics, and seemingly minor details? They matter – do not overlook any of them.

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"The Anatomy of Ghosts"
By Andrew Taylor

Average Rating:
Unleash it
3.50 out of 5 (4 Clubie's ratings)


The Gentleman
The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo

 
 
 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.
 
 

In Andrew Taylor’s THE ANATOMY OF GHOSTS, John Holdsworth is hired to investigate a ghostly sighting in a Cambridge garden – a haunting that has apparently driven a young student to the point of madness. Mr. Holdsworth is no Agent Fox Mulder. He quite firmly does not believe in the supernatural spirits of the dead, and he ultimately finds evidence that satisfies him that the Cambridge garden is ghost free. But, he also discovers that it is not just supernatural spirits that can haunt the living. Even Mr. Holdsworth finds himself preoccupied, troubled, disturbed, obsessed – yes, haunted – by regret and guilt over the death of his wife and son, by the strangely compelling Elinor Carbury, and by the uncertainty of his own future.

Unlike Mr. Holdsworth, I do like the idea of ghosts, although I never have experienced a supernatural haunting. The closest I have ever come to that is the ghost that visited my husband the first night in our new home. It was a former owner of the house, and a friendly welcome – at least my husband took it as a friendly welcome since the ghost was in his green plaid pajamas.

What haunts me, instead, are the “ghosts” I have created myself. The friends I have lost touch with for no real reason, but with whom I forever fail to reconnect. My dearest, departed pup Wesley – did I do enough for him medically? Did I hang on to him too long and do too much? The unspoken apology I never gave my husband after backing into his car, with my car, in our driveway. Even the silly blunder I made at work, that probably will not lead to an actual crisis, but that I cannot stop worrying about.

 As Elinor Carbury says, “We are factories of our own ghosts.”

 So the BIG question...

What ghosts – manufactured or otherwise – haunt you?








Clubie Submitted Discussion Questions
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From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.) 
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

What is it about historical mysteries that compels many writers to abandon the crisp conciseness of a well-honed plot in favor of sprawling narratives vined over with excess verbiage? There’s a really good premise here, but many readers will tire of hunting for its development in this almost-500-page book. Taylor sets his blend of ghost story and mystery at Cambridge University in 1786, focusing on one secret club whose overly privileged members embark on debauches that include having a female procuress find young women who are lured to a chamber, tied to a bed, and then raped by the collegians. One woman dies before she can be debauched. One of the club members claims to have seen her ghost; it so unsettles him that he is committed to a mental institution. His mother entreats London bookseller and librarian John Holdsworth, who has written an exposé of ghosts, to investigate. The engaging premise and the evocative setting are weighed down by the overstuffed plot, but fans of Rebecca Stott’s leaner ghost-mystery Ghostwalk (2007) will want to give this one a try. --Connie Fletcher


“No one brings the past to life like Andrew Taylor. This is a double treat—a taut, psychological thriller coupled with a journey to an exquisitely detailed eighteenth century.”
—Rhys Bowen, Agatha and Anthony–winning author of the Molly Murphy and Royal Spyness historical mysteries

“Despite the malodorous chamber pots, jaded blue bloods, would-be scholars, and dissolute drinking clubs of an often-squalid eighteenth-century Cambridge, Andrew Taylor has fashioned a delicate mystery in which human desire balances idealism on the knife edge of self-interest.  Intelligent and thoroughly entertaining.”
—Margaret Maron, author of 
Bootlegger’s Daughter and Christmas Mourning

“How to drown and how to live thereafter: that’s what this book is about.  Madness and sanity in the 18th century, where intellectual sophistication lives alongside barbarity in a Cambridge college of scholars, louche young gamblers, invalids, and men who collect the turds.

“Do not ignore a single character in this marvellous book.  Each has his or her place, and every one of them is subversive, by accident or design.  Put this meld into the hands of one of the greatest and most erudite of storytellers, and you have an explosive time bomb of scents and smells, lust and longing, frailty and strength.  Add in the sheer elegance of the prose and you get what you have, a page-turning masterpiece.

“Andrew Taylor is a fine novelist, who happens to be a crime novelist, but he is a novelist first and last, one of the greatest of his generation.”
—Frances Fyfield, winner of Silver and Gold Dagger awards in England, Roman Policiere in France


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Prologue

She was not alone. She would never be alone. And the key was in her hand.

Cambridge was a foreign city. The nocturnal miasma from the Fens oozed over the sleeping town. The streets lay under a fog of darkness so dense it was almost palpable to the fingertips. She had never been out at night without at least a servant to light her way, and never so late as this.

But I am not alone.

The ground underfoot was treacherous. Twice she tripped and nearly fell. If only she had proper shoes. As she crossed the bridge by Magdalene, she skidded on a patch of ice: her legs flew away from her and she sprawled, whimpering, on the stone pavement. Her cloak bunched around her shoulders. The cold seeped into her skin through the thin material of her gown.

But she still had the key. And she was not alone. In a moment, she was up and running.

There was neither moon nor stars. The few Corporation streetlamps were weak and fitful. Occasionally she crossed a wedge of brighter light thrown by a lantern over an archway or college entrance, and that was even worse, because she felt that all the world might see her as she fled.

She slowed to a walk as she passed the shuttered windows of a coffee house. A hand appeared from the shadows and snatched at her sleeve, tugging her towards the darkened entry. She slashed the key towards her attacker. It snagged on something soft and yielding. A squeal, and she was free.

She ran on. She had a stitch in her side. Her breath tore at her lungs, and blood raged in her ears.

At last there was Jerusalem Lane. She plunged across the roadway, stumbling in and out of a rut and then twisting her ankle on the edge of the gutter.

She stood by the gate, gasping for air. Her hand shook so much that she could not find the lock. She drew in a long, shuddering breath and tried again and then again. Metal whispered on metal as the key slid home. She twisted the key and the bolt scraped free of the jamb.

She pushed the gate. It swung away from her, into the garden.

THE ANATOMY of GHOSTS

1

Late in the evening of thursday, 16 February 1786, the Last Supper was nearing its end. The new Apostle had taken the oaths, signed the membership book and swallowed the contents of the sacred glass presented by the late Morton Frostwick, to the accompaniment of whoops, cheers and catcalls. Now it was time for the toasts that preceded the grand climax of the ceremony.

“No heeltaps, gentlemen,” Jesus commanded from the head of the table. “All rise. I give you His Majesty the King.”

The Apostles shuffled to their feet, many with difficulty. Four chairs fell over and someone knocked a bottle off the table.

Jesus raised his glass. “The King, God bless him.”

“The King, God bless him,” bellowed a chorus of voices in return, for the Apostles prided themselves on their patriotism and their attachment to the throne. Each man drained his glass in one. “God bless him!” repeated St. Matthew at the far end of table, and his passionate exhortation ended in a hiccup.

Jesus and the Apostles sat down and the buzz of conversation resumed. The tall, long room was brightly lit with candles. A shifting pall of smoke hung above the table. A great fire blazed in the hearth beneath the marble chimneypiece. The curtains were drawn. The mirrors between the windows caught the flames, the sparkle of silver and crystal, and the glitter of the buttons on the gentlemen’s coats. All the Apostles wore the same livery—a bright green coat lined with buck silk and adorned with prominent gilt buttons down the front and on the cuffs.

“How long do I wait?” said the young man at the right hand of Jesus.

“Be patient, Frank. All in good time.” Jesus raised his voice. “Recharge your glasses, gentlemen.”

He poured wine into his neighbor’s glass and his own. He watched the other men obeying him like sheep.

“One more toast,” he murmured in Frank’s ear. “Then we have the ceremony. And then the sacrifice.”

“Pray tell me,” Frank said, resting his elbow on the table and turning towards Jesus. “Does Mrs. Whichcote know I am to be sanctified tonight?”

“Why do you ask?”

Frank’s face had grown very red. “I—I merely wondered. Since I am to spend the night here, I thought perhaps she must know.”

“She does not,” Jesus said. “She knows nothing. And you must tell her nothing. This is men’s business.”

“Yes, of course. I should not have asked.” Frank’s elbow slipped and he would have toppled from his chair if Jesus had not steadied him. “A thousand apologies. But you’re a lucky dog, you know, she’s so very lovely—oh damnation, pray do not take it amiss, Philip, I should not have said that.”

“I was not listening.” Jesus stood up, ignoring Frank’s desire to continue apologizing. “Gentlemen, it is time for another toast. All rise. I give you damnation to the Great Whore of Babylon, his foulness of Rome, Pius VI, and may he rot in hell for all eternity along with his fellow Papists.”

The Apostles drained their glasses and burst into applause. The toast was traditional, and dated back to the earliest days of the Holy Ghost Club. Jesus had no personal animosity towards Papists. In fact his own mother had been raised in the Roman Catholic Church, though she had laid aside her religion at the time of her marriage and adopted her husband’s, as a good wife should.

He waited until the clapping and cheering had subsided. “Be seated, gentlemen.”

Chairs scraped on polished boards. St. James sat down but caught only the edge of his chair, which sent him sprawling on the floor. St. John rushed behind the screen at the far end of the room and could be heard being violently sick. St. Thomas turned aside from the company, unbuttoned and urinated into one of the commodes placed conveniently nearby.

There was a faint tapping on the door behind Jesus’s chair. Only Jesus heard it. He stood up and opened the door a few inches. The footboy was outside, candle in hand, and his eyes large with fear.

“What?” Jesus demanded.

“If it please your honor, the lady below would be obliged if she might have a private word.”

Jesus shut the door in the boy’s face. Smiling, he sauntered back to the table and rested his arm along the back of St. Peter’s chair on the left of his own. He bent down and spoke into St. Peter’s ear. “I shall be back directly—I must make sure that all is ready. Let them toast their inamoratas if they grow impatient.”

“Is it time?” Frank said. “Is it time?”

“Nearly,” Jesus said. “Believe me, it will be worth the wait.”

He straightened up. St. Andrew asked Frank a question about the merits of water spaniels as gundogs, a temporary but effective distraction. Jesus left the room, closing the mahogany door behind him. The air was at once much cooler. He was on a square landing lit by two candles burning on a bracket next to a small uncurtained window. For a moment he put his head close to the glass and rubbed a circle in the condensation. It was too dark to make out much, but at the far end of the garden a lamp glimmered above the side door of Lambourne House.

He walked quickly downstairs. The pavilion stood at the bottom of the garden. Its plan was straightforward—the great room above filled the whole of the first floor; the stairs at one end linked it to a lobby on the ground floor, where there were two doors. One door led outside to the garden, the other to a narrow hall running the length of the building and giving access to the covered terrace beside the river and to several small rooms. The footboy, who had the absurd name of Augustus, was sitting on a bench in the lobby. He sprang to his feet and bowed. At a nod from Jesus, he opened the door to the hall. Jesus passed him without a word and closed the door in his face.

Candles in pairs burned on brackets along the walls, creating globes of light in the gloom. Jesus tapped on the second door along, and it opened from within.

Mrs. Phear drew him inside. She stood on tiptoe and murmured in his ear, “The little weakling has failed us.”

The chamber was small and painted white like a cell. But it was snug enough because a coal fire glowed in the grate, the curtains were drawn and the shutters closed. The room was furnished simply with a little bed hung with white curtains, a table and two chairs. On the table stood a bottle of wine, another of cordial, two glasses and a bowl of nuts. On the mantelshelf was a candle, which provided the only light in the room apart from the fire.

“Failed?” Jesus said.

“Look for yourself.” Mrs. Phear wore a nun’s habit with a black wimple that framed and obscured her face. “Take the light.”

Jesus picked up the candle and went to the bed. The curtains were tied back. A girl lay on her back with her fair hair lying loose on the pillow. White cords attached her wrists and ankles to the four bedposts. She was dressed in a white nightgown with a loose neck. She must have been beautiful in life, he thought, the sort of girl you felt you could crush into a million fragments if you squeezed her hard enough.

He bent closer. She was young—perhaps thirteen or fourteen. Her skin was naturally very pale but her cheeks were red, almost purple. Her eyes were open and her lips widely parted. He held the candle nearer. There was froth on the lips, and a trickle of vomit at the corner of her mouth. Her eyes protruded from their sockets.

“God damn it.”

“It is such a waste,” Mrs. Phear said. “And I believe she was really a virgin, too.”

“The little bitch. Was ever anything so unlucky? What happened?”

The woman shrugged. “I made her ready for him. I went up to the house for more candles, and she asked me to put a nut or two in her mouth before I went. And when I came back she was as you see her. She’s still warm.”

Jesus straightened up, though his eyes lingered on the girl’s face. “It’s as if someone smothered her.” He looked quickly around the room.

“I locked the door behind me,” Mrs. Phear said in a flat voice. “She choked on a nut, that’s all. The footboy was in the lobby all the time and saw no one. Is he trustworthy?”

“He’s nothing but a child. He heard nothing?”

“The walls are thick.”

Candle in hand, Jesus moved about the room. Mrs. Phear waited, with hands folded and eyes cast down.

He pointed at the ceiling, to the great room above. “I cannot afford to disappoint Frank Oldershaw. Not him of all people.”

“I suppose he would not take the girl like that?”

“What? Dead?” He stared at Mrs. Phear.

“I told you, she’s still warm.”

“Of course he would not.”

“But would he notice?”

“Dear God, ma’am, yes—I think he would. He’s not so far gone. Besides, that’s where the sport of it is for them, the struggle. Believe me, that’s what they brag about afterwards in their cups. That and the blood on the sheet.”

“Are you sure it cannot be contrived?”

Jesus shook his head. “Not the struggle. And not with her face like that. I tell you, it would not answer.”

Mrs. Phear kneaded the hem of her cloak. “So do you tell him he must wait?”

“He’s mad for it, ma’am. He’s not used to being crossed. We cannot cool his ardor with a Barnwell drab even if we could lay our hands on one at this time. When can you find me another such as this?”

“In a month or so, perhaps. Even then it would not be easy. Not so soon after this.”

Jesus said, “He’s worth more than the others put together. But I cannot tell him she’s dead. I must say that she was terrified at the prospect before her, and stole away in the night.”

“There’s another difficulty,” Mrs. Phear said. “What do we do with—with that?”

Jesus turned and looked back at the white body on the white bed. Suddenly time accelerated. Event stumbled after event in a disorderly rush. He heard a raised voice outside and footsteps. The door handle turned. He tried to reach the door, to hold it shut, but the bed and the dead girl were in his way. Mrs. Phear whirled towards the sound with surprising speed but her skirt snagged on the corner of the table and the door was already opening before she had freed herself.

Frank Oldershaw was swaying on the threshold. His face was red and his waistcoat was unbuttoned. “Ah, there you are, Philip,” he said. “I am on fire, I tell you, I cannot wait another moment.” He caught sight of Mrs. Phear and her unexpected presence made him falter. But he was too drunk to stop altogether and the last few words tumbled from his mouth in a dying whisper. “And where have you hidden my sweet little virgin?”

This body was found in Jerusalem on the morning of Friday, 17 February. The sun had not quite risen. The college gardens were filled with a gray half-light, which made it possible to distinguish the broad outlines of things, but not their details. It was very quiet.

The man who discovered the corpse was called John Floyd. But he was known to everybody—sometimes even to his wife—as Tom Turdman. He was as brown as his name, and a finder of unwanted trifles, discarded memories and excreted secrets.

Jerusalem occupied eight or nine acres of ground. The college was surrounded on three sides by a high brick wall upon a medieval base of rubble and dressed stone, and on the fourth side by the principal buildings. The walls were topped with rows of spikes. Behind the chapel, the Long Pond stretched in a curve towards the southeast. It was fed by a stream that the friars had culverted under the walls long ago, before Jerusalem was even thought of. On the far side of the pond were the Fellows’ Garden and the Master’s Garden. Most of the town lay some way off on the other side of the irregular huddle of college buildings.

The only sounds were the clack of Tom’s overshoes, wooden pattens, and the trundling of the iron-rimmed wheels of his barrow on the flagged path. He visited four colleges: Sidney Sussex, Christ’s, Jerusalem and Emmanuel. He preferred to work in winter because he was paid by volume, not by the hour, and the smell obliged him to visit more frequently in the summer. He worked for a retired corn chandler whom the undergraduates called the merchant of shit. His employer derived a modest income from selling scholarly manure to farmers and gardeners.
This morning Tom was now so cold that he could hardly feel his hands. He had just emptied the Master’s privy, never a pleasant task, and wheeled his barrow along the flagged path at the back of the Master’s Lodge, which was unexpectedly productive. The path led to a gate, which the head porter, Mr. Mepal, had just unlocked for him, and then over the Long Pond by way of an intricately constructed wooden bridge. The barrow wheels rumbled like muffled thunder on the wooden planks. He turned left towards the little boghouse the bedmakers used, which was modestly tucked away on the far side of the college gardens.

The path ran close to the pond in the shadow of a great tree. In the greater gloom under the branches, Tom slipped on a patch of ice. He fell, measuring his length on the stones. The barrow toppled on to the frosty grass and discharged at least half of its stinking cargo on the bank. The shovel, which had been balanced on top, slithered into the water.

Panting with cold, he righted the trolley. He would have to clear as much as he could of the filth, and hope against hope that rain would wash the rest away before anyone noticed it. But the shovel was somewhere in the pond, and he could do nothing without it. Surely the water near the bank could not be very deep? He took off his brown coat and rolled the sleeves of his shirt above his thin, pointed elbows. He was about to plunge his hand into the water when he saw a large, dark object floating among the shards of thin ice a yard or two from the bank.

At first he thought a sheet or a shirt had fallen into the pond, for the east wind had blown strongly during the last few days, often coming in savage gusts. The following instant he thought of a more interesting idea—namely, that the floating thing was a cloak or gown discarded by a reveller during some drunken prank the previous evening. He had retrieved caps and gowns from cesspits on several occasions and either restored them to their owners or sold them to a dealer in secondhand academic dress.

Tom Turdman thrust his right arm into the freezing water. He whimpered as the cold hit him. To his relief, his fingers closed around the shaft of the shovel. All this time his mind was partly distracted by the risk of Mepal’s vengeful anger if he discovered what had happened, a risk that grew with every minute’s delay.

The sky was becoming paler. But the goddamned tree blocked so much of the light. He straightened up and stared at the thing in the water. If it was a cloak or gown, it held the possibility of substantial profit.

He held the shovel in his other hand and leaned low over the pond. He stretched his arm towards the thing that lay just beneath the swaying surface. Water seeped over the lip of one of the pattens and trickled into the cracked shoe beneath. He tried to hook the shadow with the shovel, but it danced away. He leaned out a little farther. The patten slipped in the mud.

With a shriek, Tom Turdman fell forward. The cold hit him like an iron bar. He opened his mouth to scream and swallowed pond water. His feet flailed, seeking the bottom. Weeds curled around his ankles. He could not breathe. He flung out his arms. He was now desperate to keep afloat, desperate to find a handhold. As he began to sink again, the fingers of his right hand closed around a bundle of rotting twigs, each of them with something unyielding at its core. At the same moment his feet sank into mud, and the mud seemed to receive him in its embrace and draw him deeper and deeper into it.

He did not know that he was screaming. By that time, Tom Turdman was beyond thinking, almost beyond feeling. But long before he discovered what he was holding, he knew that there was nothing living in whatever curled around his fingers. He knew that what he touched was dead.

Excerpted from THE ANATOMY OF GHOSTS. Copyright (c) 2011 Andrew Taylor. All rights reserved. published by HYPERION. Available wherever books are sold.

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Andrew Taylor has won the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award twice, once for The Office of the Deed and, more recently, for The American Boy.


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