The Music of the Spheres

The Music of the Spheres [3.5/5]
by Elizabeth Redfern
(Jove Books, a division of Penguin Putnam, August 2002)

I first spotted this book in a rest stop in Canada driving through en route to Michigan, and was intrigued by the back cover copy, which seemed to hint of vague parallels to Jack the Ripper, long a fascination of mine. Naturally, I promptly forgot the title and author and it wasn’t until months later that I was actually able to recall the book and add it to the giant pile of books to be read.

Best described, perhaps, as an historical thriller, it brings to mind echoes of books such as Caleb Carr’s The Alienist. Set in London, and the surrounding countryside, as well as parts of France, the book focuses on two primary plot threads: an investigation into serial killings in England, and the fallout from the French Revolution on the continent.

Overall, the book was evocative of both time and place, and the glimpse of the astronomical sciences of the period, during a time when so much was being discovered in the field, struck me as interesting. However, I did find so many of the characters flawed and dysfunctional that I had some trouble fully investing in them, or identifying with any major role as a sympathetic protagonist. Also, while the twists and the turns of the plot throughout kept me reading, the revelations did not occur in such a way as to allow the reader to attempt a solution, which I found somewhat frustrating. Add to that an ending that was quite melodramatic.

Would I recommend this book? To those who have an interest in the time period or in any of the other elements, I would say yes. Would I read another book by this author? In the hopes that her execution has matured, again, yes. But I feel perhaps the review in Publisher’s Weekly said it best: “There are vivid touches of atmosphere, some strong detail on contemporary astronomy, and some of the moral dilemmas are piercing, but the hectic windup is over the top. This is a good example of a book where less would have been more.”

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