Sunday, November 04, 2012

Reading Report: The Solitary House

Written by Lynn Shepherd
Random House, 2012; 352 pages

Description (from the publisher's website):
London, 1850. Charles Maddox had been an up-and-coming officer for the Metropolitan police until a charge of insubordination abruptly ended his career. Now he works alone, struggling to eke out a living by tracking down criminals. Whenever he needs it, he has the help of his great-uncle Maddox, a legendary “thief taker,” a detective as brilliant and intuitive as they come. 

On Charles’s latest case, he’ll need all the assistance he can get. To his shock, Charles has been approached by Edward Tulkinghorn, the shadowy and feared attorney, who offers him a handsome price to do some sleuthing for a client. Powerful financier Sir Julius Cremorne has been receiving threatening letters, and Tulkinghorn wants Charles to—discreetly—find and stop whoever is responsible. But what starts as a simple, open-and-shut case swiftly escalates into something bigger and much darker. As he cascades toward a collision with an unspeakable truth, Charles can only be aided so far by Maddox. The old man shows signs of forgetfulness and anger, symptoms of an age-related ailment that has yet to be named. 

Intricately plotted and intellectually ambitious, The Solitary House is an ingenious novel that does more than spin an enthralling tale: it plumbs the mysteries of the human mind.

My Thoughts:

The Solitary House was really not at all what I expected. Lynn Shepherd has borrowed characters and bits of story lines from Dickens' Bleak House and Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White, and mixed them all into this fast-paced, intricate mystery set in Victorian London. I have to admit that at first I was a little put off by the idea of a writer using so much of another author's creation (when does homage become rip-off?). But as I got deeper and deeper into the narrative, I forgot all that and just let the story-telling take over. Glad I did -- Shepherd tells a great tale. I'd recommend this one to anyone who loves historical fiction, whether or not they're familiar with the works that it references.

Rating:  3 marks out of 5

Note: My copy of this book was provided by the publisher, free of charge, through Library Thing's Early Reviewer Program. No other compensation was received, and no one attempted to influence my opinion.

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