Theft of Life

p 4  “The heavy metal mask which still hid the corpse’s face was a rough bit of work.  It was a rude clamp, with a plate welded under the chin to hide the jaw closed…William had never seen such a thing on the head of a white man.”

Since my first introduction to Imogen Robertson’s historical mysteries, I  continue to borrow heavily from my “dear neighbor” for access to the author’s subsequent titles in the Westerman & Crowther series. However, this one feels apart – more sombre – from her previous ones. Perhaps, it is the topic. Was I prepared to approach this book as an “escape,” a “way to relax” with slavery at the heart of the story? With each tentative turn of the pages, however, Robertson creates a somber 18th c. English setting where the business of slave trading is unveiled with all its painful and abhorrent permutations. By allowing Mrs. Westerman and Dr. Crowther to step into the background, quietly moving the plot forward, she gives slavery a voice through Francis Glass, a former slave now a free man, prospering in London.

And, to my astonishment, I realized my substantive ignorance on the history of slavery in England. The author’s “Historical Note” begins with,

Much of the prosperity this country has enjoyed over the last two hundred years was built on human misery and suffering on an almost unimaginable scale. Our institutions, our monuments and our culture are all stained and coloured by slavery, and it is not talked about enough (339).

I agree. No, it is not.

Robertson, Imogen.  Theft of Life.  London: Headline Publishing Group, 2014. Print.


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