Cleverly woven Victorian literary murder mystery
Lynn Shepherd’s eagerly awaited (certainly by me!) second book takes her into a stylish foray of the murky, mucky depths of Victorian society’s sewers, via a clever amalgam of Dickens, particularly Bleak House, Wilkie Collins The Woman in White , Henry Mayhew’s sociological enquiries into Victorian poverty and exploitation London Labour and the London Poor, a gruesome sprinkling of a Jack-the-Ripper foretaste, and all linked together via the omniscient narrator device found in John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman.
Shepherd herself pays tribute to all these sources and inspirations in the afterword to her book. Not to mention a sly nod, within the book itself, to her own first work, Murder at Mansfield Park. Indeed, her detective within that book Charles Maddox, is the great uncle to the protagonist in this book – also a Charles Maddox. Dickens himself, and Mayhew, make appearances, as does a tie-in to Shelley.
Lest this all sound too much of a literary self-congratulation, with the avid reader of Victorian literature nodding delightedly at what they recognise, rest assured that what we have here is a cracking good murder mystery in its own right, with Shepherd using her interest in, and passion for, that earlier literature, and indeed for the craft of literature, more – how to tell a story – itself, to add depth, richness and sly, inventive humour. This is a succulent plum pudding of a novel, even though some of its goodies may have the reader wincing at Shepherd’s skill in portraying the gruesome, festering underbelly of Victorian London’s `stinks’
I do believe that whilst reading this without a prior knowledge of Dickens, Collins etc al will still be hugely enjoyable, that readers steeped in Victorian life and literature will gain an added pleasure – not least because of the sly, playful way Shepherd takes our conceptions and preconceptions of characters from Bleak House, subtly changing names in some cases, but leaving us with a memory of their `original’ in order to set up expectations and certainties, which may later be overturned. She pulled rugs from under this reader several times, and I enjoyed being surprised and overturned.
There can be no finer accolade than to say she makes me want to re-read the originals, yet again, in order to follow the route of her imaginative inventions from the original texts. This is ‘Charles Maddox 2’
The prequel Charles Maddox 1 is Murder at Mansfield Park
The Sequel Charles Maddox 3 is A Treacherous Likeness (A Fatal Likeness USA)
Tom All Alone’s Amazon UK
Tom All Alone’s Amazon USA
For some reason this is ALSO sold as The Solitary House in the USA. VERY confusing!