August 20, 2013
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-Sir Walter Scott, Canto VI Marmion
A mystery that explores the dark lives and unexplained secrets of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and his wife Mary, author of Frankenstein.Though, I didn't know the exact origins of the Scott quote above, it kept running through my head as I read Lynn Shepherd's A Fatal Likeness (published earlier this year in the UK as A Treacherous Likeness.)
In the dying days of 1850 the young detective Charles Maddox takes on a new case. His client? The only surviving son of the long-dead poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and his wife Mary, author of Frankenstein.
Charles soon finds himself being drawn into the bitter battle being waged over the poet’s literary legacy, but then he makes a chance discovery that raises new doubts about the death of Shelley’s first wife, Harriet, and he starts to question whether she did indeed kill herself, or whether what really happened was far more sinister than suicide.
As he’s drawn deeper into the tangled web of the past, Charles discovers darker and more disturbing secrets, until he comes face to face with the terrible possibility that his own great-uncle is implicated in a conspiracy to conceal the truth that stretches back more than thirty years.
The story of the Shelleys is one of love and death, of loss and betrayal. In this follow-up to the acclaimed Tom-All-Alone’s, Lynn Shepherd offers her own fictional version of that story, which suggests new and shocking answers to mysteries that still persist to this day, and have never yet been fully explained.
I've been curious about the story of the Shelleys since seeing some program on, I believe, Frankenstein and its creation several years ago. It also talked about Mary Shelly, Percy Bysshe Shelley, his first wife, those that were their with them when Frankenstein was thought to have been started -- and what complicated inter-workings all of their relationships had.
After knowing some of the potential scandal that was possible if what that version presented as fact was true, I wanted to see how it all could work together as a story. (It's why historical fiction can be more fun than just historical sometimes, you get it as a story.)
I found exactly what I was looking for in Shepherd's novel: a closer examination of the relationships between the characters -- so much more than I knew happened between them. While I knew, whilst reading it, that some of it wouldn't be true in the end, it was very difficult to tell just what. With so many characters (true, at times I did almost wish for some sort of a family tree somewhere due to the similar names) and attention to detail, both the fact and fiction felt equally real.
With so much developing, unfolding and coming together and apart, while I was completely drawn into the story -- unsure if the characters were quite as bad as the others seemed to be painting them -- at the end I felt I'd missed some things. I read them and I caught them all while reading, but so much happened and they were such big things that the way it came together at the end, with a few quite big events added in quickly and others ended almost suddenly, that after finishing it, I couldn't remember how some significant things concluded.
Charles Maddox is the completely invented detective character, back here in his second of Shepherd's novels, but he fits in with all of the characters who have 'true' backstories as if he were one of them. Though it is a follow-up novel and the second appearance for Maddox there was only one glaring time that I, having not read, The Solitary House (Tom-All-Alone) felt not fully abreast of the story. (You don't need to have read the first book to read this one.)
The writing style of A Fatal Likeness was not quite for me; or, rather, one particular part. The narration - which uses some second person plural (we, you) - pulled me out of the story sometimes with its mentions of modern day. The story is set in the 19th Century but there would be statements like, "What we know but Charles can't," or, "In the 21st Century, of course..." It may be a quirk of mine, but when I'm reading about 1850 London, I don't like the book itself, purposely, reminding me that I'm here in 2013 reading it. Whether it's to tell me I maybe should know of a character being mentioned, know about something medically or whatever. I like to be 'in' the story.
The Solitary House despite any small faults I found with it, was a very enjoyable read. One that if you're at all interested in the subjects, time period, or mysteries where characters' character is at the heart, is not to miss. It's one I will recommend.
thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for me egalley for review