BookBrowse Reviews The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Anatomy of Ghosts

by Andrew Taylor

The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jan 2011, 432 pages
    Jan 2012, 432 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker

Buy This Book

About this Book



A suspenseful thriller set in late 18th century Cambridge, England

Though Andrew Taylor's riveting novel is billed as a mystery infused with a ghost story, it is considerably more literary than it might appear. The plot concerns the investigation of a murder and a ghost, but all of the characters are haunted by something - regret, failed ambition - and it is around these "hauntings" that the story revolves. As John Holdsworth investigates the oddities of Sylvia Whichcote's death, it is clear that this novel is wrestling with larger issues: Is it possible to escape the pain of the past? And how do past disappointments blind you from seeing the truth of the present? These piquant questions have broad applications as each character struggles to determine what they should hide or reveal.

The characters jump off the page, but perhaps the most absorbing aspect is the book's setting. Taylor plunges the reader into 1780s England, a world divided by class and smudged with dirt. The details about dress, architecture, and interior design feel perfect, and it is clear that Taylor knows exactly what he is doing with time and place. Much historical fiction is brought down by poor dialogue, because if this important element is off-key, the authenticity of the writing crumbles, creating an uncomfortable reading experience - but the syntax, diction, and cadence of dialogue in The Anatomy of Ghosts is delightfully executed.

At the center of the novel is John Holdsworth, a poor bookseller recovering from a family tragedy. He is hired as a detective on the strength of his lucid argument against the presence of spirits in the eponymously named pamphlet "The Anatomy of Ghosts". His decision to write this treatise came out of his own frustration watching his wife's obsessive attempts to contact their dead son. Ironically, this small project that helped him make some sense of his wife's irrationality ends up being the catalyst that changes his life.

Holdsworth is an unlikely sleuth, preferring the solace of books over the pressures of solving mysteries. He soon realizes, however, that solving this mystery may be a way to salve his own disappointments. He discovers that the ghosts of his past are everywhere: Frank Oldershaw reminds him of what it felt like to be a father, and the lovely (and married) Elinor is faintly reminiscent of his own wife. As he delves deeper into the confusion at Cambridge, he learns that he is actually meeting his own demons.

Just as Holdsworth struggles with his past, so do the other characters. The circumstances around Sylvia's death are changeable based on perspective and bias. Each of the characters believes that they play one role only to discover that what they think isn't always true. The result is a chessboard of moveable pieces and evolving views, one that requires a cool head to unravel. The solution is satisfying, albeit slightly predictable. For readers looking for a nuanced, spellbinding whodunit, this is not the best choice. The strength of The Anatomy of Ghosts lies in its characterization and historical setting. The mystery will keep the pages turning, but the characters will haunt you long after you've finished reading.

This review was originally published in February 2011, and has been updated for the January 2012 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Treatment of the Mentally Ill

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Music of the Ghosts
    Music of the Ghosts
    by Vaddey Ratner
    Music of the Ghosts is about healing and forgiveness, but it is also about identity and the revival ...
  • Book Jacket: Castle of Water
    Castle of Water
    by Dane Huckelbridge
    When a whopping 24 out of 27 readers give a book 4 or 5 stars, you know you have a winner on your ...
  • Book Jacket: Havana
    by Mark Kurlansky
    History with flavor...culture with spice...language with would be hard to find a better ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Nest
by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

A funny and acutely perceptive debut about four siblings and the fate of their shared inheritance.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Stars Are Fire
    by Anita Shreve

    An exquisitely suspenseful novel about an extraordinary young woman tested by a catastrophic event.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    If We Were Villains
    by M. L. Rio

    An intelligent and captivating story of the enduring power and passion of words.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

Everywhere I go, I am asked if I think the university stifles writers...

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

Y S M B, I'll S Y

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

Modal popup -