This is a note-perfect whodunit, and even if Mayne went about his business unmolested it would still be a deliciously creepy novel. Author Elsa Hart...has great fun with the time period—it’s set in 1703—and the complications of science and fact running headlong into mythology and occult beliefs ... High society and the secret societies within make a terrific backdrop for a story that often hinges on the ways women are presumed unimportant, thus allowing them to explore and find evidence while going undetected.
...offers up a delightfully enigmatic murder in an interesting setting: 18th Century London, amid the culture of collectors of natural history ... Hart has clearly done a significant amount of research in constructing this world, painting a comprehensive and immersive portrait of London at the beginning of the 18th Century. Not only does it mean she vividly conjures the miasma of smog that blanketed London at the time, but she evocatively describes the obsession and competition that underscored the hobby of the wealthy in the form of collecting ... By and large, Hale’s writing style is clear and enjoyable with descriptions that vividly evoke the scene and atmosphere of her setting ... However, Hale’s writing could at times tend toward the purple. Those sections dragged down the pace of the events and I had to push to get through one or two patches ... On the whole, The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne is a thoroughly enjoyable murder mystery with just enough difference from other novels of similar genres...that makes it an engrossing read. It places enough of the pieces to the mystery before the reader that they are engaged in creating a solid hypothesis as to who is responsible, however it ensures right to the very end that there are still questions that mystify the reader, and leaves them desperate to have answered.
...[a] suspenseful historical mystery ... Ms. Hart, the author of a trio of novels involving an exiled librarian in 18th-century China, proves adept at depicting this 'realm of the collectors . . . a shadowy place full of illusions, 'tainted by greed and fraud and now homicide.