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Theft of Life

(Crowther and Westerman #5)

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  492 ratings  ·  63 reviews
London, 1785. When the body of a West Indies planter is found pegged out in the grounds of St Paul's Cathedral, suspicion falls on one of the victim's former slaves, who was found with his watch on the London streets. But it seems the answer is not that simple. The impact of the planter's death brings tragedy for Francis Glass, a freed slave now working as a bookseller and ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published July 15th 2014 by Headline (first published May 1st 2014)
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Average rating 4.25  · 
Rating details
 ·  492 ratings  ·  63 reviews

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Dana Stabenow
Sep 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
The best in this series to date. Not only does Robertson create a plot that credibly entangles every member of the Harriet and Gabriel ménage, she gives a searing and very human portrait of the issue of slavery in late Georgian England. I hope Francis shows up in future books, and Mr. Christopher, too.
First Sentence: The body was staked out in the north-east corner of the churchyard.

The murder of a former West Indies planter causes suspicion to fall on a runaway slave who is now working as a bookseller in London. It also has an emotional impact on Harriet Westerman’s senior footman, William Geddings. As Harriet and her friend, anatomist Gabriel Crowther, become more involved in the murder, they become more aware of how much of Britain’s wealth is built on the shameful trade of human li
Jun 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I have read all of the Harriet and Crowther series and thoroughly enjoyed them, but this one is definitely my favorite. That may partly be because a lot of it is set just around the corner from where I work, but the main reason is because of the subject matter.

Theft is Life is lot darker in tone than the others, because of the heavy subject of slavery in Britain. Slavery in America is well documented, particularly with the recent release of Oscar-winning 'Twelve Years a Slave', but British invo
Aug 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is #5 of the Westerman/Crowther books, one of the series I keep on a watch list, waiting for the next instalment. They are set in victorian England & feature Harriet Westerman, a wealthy young widow & Gabriel Crowther, a brilliant, reclusive anatomist. Together they look into mysterious deaths & murders as kind of an alternative Holmes & Watson.
In this outing, both are spending time in London & end up investigating the death of a former West Indies plantation owner
Christine Woods
May 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This has been a five star series with very little swearing which is getting very hard to find. I would prefer no cockroaches in my soup but Imogene Robertson gets a pass on this one from me. This five novel series have been very enjoyable reads and I am so hoping for a sixth and seventh.
I especially love the historical information in her books even though the British slave trade in this one has been very hard to read about, and even harder to understand the cruel things some men can come up wit
Mar 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I really hope this isn't going to be the last of this wonderful historical mystery series featuring Harriet Westerman and Gabriel Crowther. Set in Georgian London and bringing to light the barbarous practice of slavery, the book starts off with a dead body, an older white man wearing nothing but a night shift and a metal punishment mask employed by slave owners on their charges; the man is staked out in a church yard. Passing by the church that morning, Harriet Westerman's second footman William ...more
Nov 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Audio. A few too many characters, but as usual, a great story of the recognition of the horrors of slavery in 1785 London revolving around a murder of a former slave owner.
Susan in NC
Apr 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Crowther and Westerman wade into the treacherous waters of the growing slavery debate in this excellent mystery, dark even by the standards of this stellar series. Author Robertson has never hesitated to face the difficult issues of her 18th century setting (1780s Britain) and treats the horrors of slavery with all the unflinching honesty and sensitivity I would expect, although I admit I am grateful to her for sparing the reader the worst of what she discovered in her extensive research, as she ...more
Nov 20, 2016 rated it it was ok
I had this on my to-read list for a very long time waiting for it to become available and it wasn't. My library decided not to buy it, so perhaps they read books before they purchase? I ordered it from UK, reasonably priced through Amazon. Have all the books in this series been this unrealistic and fractured? I can't recall. It's been too long. Either the previous books were better books or my reading preferences have changed.
Action takes place in London, 1780's.
The main focus seemingly is the
Ruth Lawton
Jul 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I found the history of slavery and British involvement in it deeply moving and unsettling, made so real but wonderful story telling. A fascinating series
Mar 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
While the writing style felt different from Robertson's previous books, I simply loved this book. It drew me in, in a way the previous Crowther & Westerman books didn't. Not that I didn't love those as well. I don't know if it was issues of race and race equality that are unfortunately still fighting for, or the fight for total abolition of slavery worldwide some 230+ years after the fictional events in the book.

Robertson takes you on a difficult journey through late spring 1785.
Phil Butcher
Aug 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mystery-read
I love this historical mystery series set in the late 1700s. With characters you care about, gripping plots and a well-written style, each one has got better and better. The plot revolves around the black slave trade, the experience of freed slaves living in London & the start of the campaign to abolish slavery. So I am a little sad that this one appears to be the last in the series, but it did not disappoint.
Oct 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is perhaps one of the best in the series. Given the serious racial tensions in 2017, it is a stark reminder of where it all began. As always, the characters are tangible and the language eloquent. My favorite bit... as she moved her silks gossiped. So much more descriptive than saying her skirts swished.
Aug 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Wow, I think this is the best in the series. Very emotional, complex and fast paced.
Mar 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another winner!

Without a doubt, this series, whether you classify it as mystery of historical fiction, is one of the best I have ever read. This book did not disappoint.
Feb 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Definitely the best so far. A complex mystery surrounding the death of a form slave owner in Georgian England. The information at the end of the book about the slave trade was facinating.
Kerry Bridges
May 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is the fifth book in the Westerman/Crowther series and although the books do stand alone, I have enjoyed the progression of the characters from book to book, and this one in particular is a better read with some prior knowledge of the set up.

Gabriel Crowther is an anatomist who happens to be in London when a murder is commotted - an ex slave trader is found tied down wearing a punishment mask which he himself had designed to use on his slaves. Together with his close friend, Har
Jul 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
A pair of wonderful characters, Harriet Westerman, a wealthy young widow, and Gabriel Crowther, brilliant forensic scientist, team once again to solve a murder in 18th century Britain. It's a time when former slaves are beginning to build their own lives.

When a former English owner of a Jamaican sugar plantation is found murdered in a churchyard the manner in which his body is found lead authorities to believe that his murderer might have been an ex-slave. His head is enclosed in a m
Barb in Maryland
Thank goodness for ILL. My husband and I were waiting for an American edition to come out; then we threw in the towel and asked our library to get the book. Success!

We are in deep waters here, as our intrepid duo of Mrs. Westerman and Mr Crowther are drawn into the case of a murdered English (former)owner of a Jamaican sugar plantation and the slaves who worked there. Was the murderer one of London's African population? That would be the easy (and thus, wrong) answer. But if not a fo
Aug 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I love this series so much I had this installment shipped from the UK since I couldn't get it here in print. I love Harriet and Gabriel because they have a fond and adult relationship without letting romance distract (although there was an amusing titter of it in this one). If these two ever do get together, I would actually be very disappointed; and I'm a dyed-in-the wool romantic.

The story / mystery revolves around slavery in England. Emotional and fraught for all of the participan
May 25, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014
London - 1785. The body of a West Indies planter is found dead, and suspicions lands on former slaves. Dark secrets of the powerful slave trade are unwound, and they discover how far some people are willing to go if they believe their cause to be just.

I think my issues with this book rely solely on what I just read (Kindred - about slavery), and what I stopped reading temporarily to get through my review books (The Luminaries - starts with a death shrouded in mystery). The former was
Sep 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery
Robertson still has it. Her mysteries are never just mysteries but whole little worlds that mysteries happen to intersect with. This time, England and its role in the slave trade provides her main theme, and I thought she did very well at portraying the complex mix of opinions and beliefs. Her characters might know which side of history to be on, but that doesn't free them from blundering about in sensitive areas themselves from time to time. The one aspect that disappointed me was that I wished ...more
Jul 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: historical
It is always a joy to get a new novel from Imogen Robertson and the fact that we are back in the world of Herriet Waterman and Gabriel Crowther even more so. While you feel very cosy and very much at home with the characters,Imogen Robertson then puts you into the heart of the story that makes me think that not only does history repeat it`s self,but it makes me think that little has change in the world today.Herriet and Gabriel are back in Britain and have set up camp in London where they become ...more
May 10, 2015 rated it it was ok
Originally posted on

The best way I could describe this book is CSI: Georgian London. This book does a really good job at being a murder mystery while also being a fantastic historical fiction novel. It tells the story of Harriet Westerman, a wealthy young widow and Gabriel Crowther, a brilliant, reclusive anatomist, as they investigate the death of former West Indies plantation owner. Slavery plays an importation role in this book which makes it feel very dark. It touches on the subjec
Jan 06, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: historical, mystery
Another solid entry in the Westerman/Crowther series. It started off a little slower than I expected, but once it got rolling about 1/3 of the way in, it was tough to put down. In addition to the murder mystery, Robertson delves into the moral, social, and economic aspects of slavery in an intriguing way - the characters of William, Francis, Mr. Christopher, and Dauda (all former slaves) offer differing povs on the subject. It was fascinating to see how they each made some sense of their past an ...more
Sally Atwell Williams
This is Imogen Robertson's fifth book about Harriet Westerman and Gabriel Crowthers. She is a marvelous author and mystery writer. Harriet is a widow with two children and Gabriel is a forensic scientist. Together they solve murders and mysteries. The time period is the 1780-90's. In this book England's extensive slave trade and English plantation owners in Jamaica is the subject. Wonderful. Robertson has done incredible research, as she always does, and tells of the locations and libraries wher ...more
This entry covers slavery in Britain in a wonderful way. Our crime solving duo is in London when a slave owner from the Indies is killed in a churchyard after being treated like a punished slave with a metal mask and whip being used. The other slave traders want it to be a former slave and the former slaves are fearful they will be blamed. Several actual abolitionists are mentioned giving great historical flavor. A complicated series of events intertwines the death of a lady shopkeeper. The stor ...more
Krisette Spangler
Feb 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Ms. Robertson's fifth book in the Crowther and Westerman series does not disappoint. This novel deals with the slave trade in Great Britain in the late 1700's. It must have been heart wrenching to do all the research she had to do in order to write this book. I had a hard time putting the book down, and I am eagerly hoping there will be a book 6. Once again, the only thing that keeps me from giving these books five stars is some of the language that is used. There is very little swearing in thes ...more
Gill Parry
Jul 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
Thoroughly enjoyed this book - it's one of the best I have read for a while. I can't say I was 'hooked' from the start, but quickly realised this was a most unusual book, with unusual characters. I had not realised the Slave trade was abolished in Britain until 1833, & this book has encouraged me to read further about the subject.
This was a library book - didn't know it's actually the 5th in the series - will certainly look out for the others.
Tara Russell
Aug 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: crime, fiction
This fascinating crime novel sees the return of anatomist Crowther and his friend and investigative assistant Harriet Westerman. This time they are drawn into the case of a plantation and slave owner found dead in horrific circumstances in London. As the mystery unfolds the theme of slavery and its intrinsic role in British society is explored. A very harrowing read in places, eye opening at times, with the portrayal of characters refusing to shy away from unpleasant truths.
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Imogen Robertson grew up in Darlington, studied Russian and German at Cambridge and now lives in London. She directed for film, TV and radio before becoming a full-time author and won the Telegraph’s ‘First thousand words of a novel’ competition in 2007 with the opening of Instruments of Darkness, her first novel. Her other novels also featuring the detective duo of Harriet Westerman and Gabriel C ...more

Other books in the series

Crowther and Westerman (5 books)
  • Instruments of Darkness (Crowther and Westerman, #1)
  • Anatomy of Murder (Crowther and Westerman, #2)
  • Island of Bones (Crowther and Westerman, #3)
  • Circle Of Shadows (Crowther and Westerman, #4)