This book is often referred to as a 'Victorian novel' or even as 'a homage to Dickens', but it is not particularly convincing even as a pastiche, and certainly never reaches the heights of Dickens, or even of Wilkie Collins best works. One reviewer has suggested that it is better than Dickens because it does not rely so heavily on over-stretched coincidence. Well it's true that the author goes to some lengths to supply explanations for the coincidences, but that does not mean that they are necessarily any more convincing. What the novel lacks, which Dickens supplies in abundance, is true characterisation and insight, and something truly worthwhile to say about the human condition. That is why Dickens is great and Palliser emerges as just another author. The Quincunx is on one level an entertaining and well researched romp through Victorian England, though one populated by depressingly one dimensional characters and an irritating and frustrating protagonist who does not know what is good for him (not to mention his mother who starts out as pretty and sweet but quickly proves to be merely vacuous, so much so that her fall from grace, which is actually sketched out in the most simplistic and shallow terms, evokes very little sympathy). It is often hard to suppress the desire to bang heads together, harder still to really care about any of the many, many characters who people the novel. The other key ingredient missing, if this book really has to be compared with Dickens, is humour. Dickens used this brilliantly, knowing as he did that it is as central to life as tragedy. It actually strengthens the pathos because it gives us chance to see life in the round - to see the close relationship between the serious and the ridiculous - whereas in Palliser's book it is almost entirely absent, just a relentless round of avarice, cruelty and betrayal (a comparison of the scenes at Dotheboys Hall in Nicholas Nickleby, and the Quigg Academy in The Quincunx points this up very well). I give The Quincunx three stars for the research and the moderately gripping story, but I suspect that many another reader, like me, will feel cheated by the perfunctory and deeply ambiguous ending, and more annoyed still by Palliser's rather smug notes at the end, where he seems to be at pains to point out that the reader has probably not picked up the 'hidden text' of the book. Don't necessarily believe those who say that taking notes as you go along enables you to do this. It's equally likely to point up inconsistencies which make almost any interpretation of the protagonist's true origins insupportable. By the end though - for all that you may have enjoyed the recreation of early 19th Century London - the chances are that you will not particularly care.