Thursday, March 17, 2011

Review of Elizabeth Redfern's THE MUSIC OF THE SPHERES

Published several years ago and recently re-issued in a brand new trade paperback format, THE MUSIC OF THE SPHERES is a thinking person's historical thriller, a vivid account of a man's search for his daughter's killer and the quest for a lost planet among refugees from the French Revolution.

The sights, sounds and smells of 18th century London permeate this tale of Jonathan Absey, a calcifying civil servant whose family and personal life have crumbled following the death of his daughter, who was strangled by a serial killer preying on red-haired prostitutes. While the premise sounds reminiscent of countless other thrillers, echoing the later horrors and panic of the infamous Ripper spree, this is where the similarities end.

Rather than settle for the usual stop-the-murderer-before-he-kills-again scenario, Ms Redfern instead has crafted a compelling rumination on the forces that our beliefs exert on us, and the effect of one seemingly random event upon an entire life. She adds to her lead character a fascinating cast of supporting roles, including Jonathan’s sensitive gay brother, Alexander, an amateur astronomy aficionado who falls in thrall to a tormented French refugee brother and sister. In a time when homosexuality was persecuted, Redfern’s choice to tell part of her story through Alexander’s eyes is a bold one, elevating the narrative into one of eloquent complexity.
While Jonathan chases clues that appear to link the enigmatic French refugee society to a renewed bout of murders horrifyingly similiar to his daughter's, and Alexander becomes increasingly involved with the mysterious and glamorous Comtesse Auguste and her beautiful, terminally ill brother— who may, in fact, be the very killer Jonathan Absey seeks— the world around them is being shaken by the ongoing war in France and ruthless suspicions of the English government, which avidly hunts down French spies. The descriptions of France’s struggles and the suffering of those forced to leave their country are poignant; rarely do we read about the ones who fled abroad, only to encounter another country’s hostility.

While the occasional digressions into battles abroad dilute the immediate plot, this is still a book rich in atmosphere and suspense— a heady excursion into an era when astronomy was a burgeoning, imperfect science; war was as haunting a presence as the murderer in London’s midst; and one man’s dogged search to bring a killer to justice unravels a myriad of deadly secrets.


Carrie C said...

Thanks for highlighting -- The Music of the Spheres sounds great! Separately, I'm about to start reading The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, and am very excited :)

C.W. Gortner said...

Thanks for letting me know, Carrie. I hope you enjoy it!