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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars SENSORY JOURNEY
TOM ALL ALONE'S by Lynn Shepherd conjures up so many vivid images that it is like taking trip back in time to Victorian England ala H.G. Wells time machine. The writing is so descriptive you can almost smell the aromas pouring from the sewage laden streets which are inhabited by their equally filthy residents. Add to this scenario a former policeman turned private...
Published 20 months ago by Red Rock Bookworm

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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but Flawed
This is a good idea that doesn't quite come off. Using characters from both "Bleak House" and "The Woman in White", the author attempts to fashion a detective story that runs alongside the two classic novels - that is, she is not writing a sequel or a "prequel" but inserting her novel into the same time frame as the two novels she is attempting to emulate.Like the new...
Published on 19 Mar 2012 by Smith


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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but Flawed, 19 Mar 2012
This review is from: Tom-All-Alone's (Charles Maddox 2) (Hardcover)
This is a good idea that doesn't quite come off. Using characters from both "Bleak House" and "The Woman in White", the author attempts to fashion a detective story that runs alongside the two classic novels - that is, she is not writing a sequel or a "prequel" but inserting her novel into the same time frame as the two novels she is attempting to emulate.Like the new Sherlock Holmes novel "The House of Silk", she deliberately uses themes that would never have been considered in Victorian times - this is fine but the overall impression is of a muddle. Maybe she is attempting to put too much in- such as the Jack the Ripper suggestion - certainly her display of her own knowledge is not always welcome and the contemporary asides are just an intrusion. Considering that Charles Maddox is supposed to be a great detective there is an awful lot that he misses or only latches on to when it is too late!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very well written and researched, but I have mixed feelings about the premise!, 6 Aug 2012
This review is from: Tom-All-Alone's (Charles Maddox 2) (Hardcover)
I can't fault Lynn Shepherd's elegant literary style, or the consummate research that has gone into this book; her passion for Dickens, Wilkie Collins, mid-Victorian London, the Sir John Soane house etc. shines through every page. And yet by the end of the book, I felt really rather irritated by all the pastiche and the deliberate use of characters, created by Dickens in 'Bleak House' (Mr Tulkinghorn, Inspector Bucket etc.), and Wilkie Collins in 'The Woman in White' and above all, I felt dubious about the way so many incidents and motifs have been borrowed from elsewhere. Of course, this is Lynn Shepherd's method and some readers will love the clever twists on the familiar (Jack the Ripper, for example) and will enjoy spotting the references but by the end, I'd had more than enough. In fact, the last page of the book left me feeling deeply annoyed! Just when you thinks it's all over, a real life person is lobbed in! I suppose this genre, seen by some as homage and as parasitism by others, doesn't appeal to me, or at any rate, it didn't work for me here. I do love 20th/21st century 'Vic. Lit.', but I prefer books where the author has created his/her own characters -for example, Sarah Waters in 'Fingersmith' or Michel Faber in 'The Crimson Petal and the White'.

Such a pity---Charles Maddox was an engaging character and I'd have liked to have known more about Molly. I'd have much preferred it if these characters had been allowed to live and breathe outside of the Dickensian framework.
A good book, but ultimately, the use Lynn Shepherd made of the characters Dickens created wasn't to my taste and I have considerable doubt as to whether books of this kind are a legitimate form of homage. I suspect someone who hasn't read 'Bleak House' will enjoy it more than someone who has!
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A disappointment..., 9 Mar 2012
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FictionFan (Kirkintilloch, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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I realise I'm out of step with most other reviewers, but I found this book a major disappointment after the wonderful Murder at Mansfield Park. There is no doubt that Lynn Shepherd writes well and has the ability to conjure up the atmosphere of Victorian London. However I felt that in this book she tried too hard to pack in references to some of the greatest novels of that age and in so doing disrupted the flow of her own plot.

The main reference is of course to Bleak House, but to set oneself up for a comparison to Dickens and then not to include any of the fun and joyousness that lightens the tone of even Dickens' darkest novels seems a strange decision and one that didn't work for me. Again, as she did in Murder at Mansfield Park, Shepherd twists the characters and plot of Bleak House but this time in a way that really grated. In MAMP, she gave us the enjoyable character of Mary to replace those characters she had made unlikeable - in this novel, I found all the characters unlikeable. And the irritating omniscient narrator device, constantly dragging us forward to the present day to look back on Victorian London with an air of smug superiority, became a really annoying distraction as the book wore on.

The first half of the book meandered along without giving us a real idea of what the detective Charles Maddox was trying to investigate - was it the disappearance of his sister, the deaths of the babies in the churchyard, the Tulkinghorn connection? The second half was more focused and she did manage to pull some of the threads together at the end, but still left too much unresolved, presumably as a hook for a follow-up - a follow-up that I'm afraid I will not be avidly awaiting.

I hope that Ms Shepherd will soon allow her own voice to develop and stop relying on attracting the fans of the great fiction of the past. The quality of her writing and plotting (in MAMP at least) shows she has the talent and if she were to create her own world, I suspect it would be a good deal more satisfying than these skewed versions of our much-loved fictional worlds.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars SENSORY JOURNEY, 26 Jan 2013
By 
Red Rock Bookworm (St. George Utah USA) - See all my reviews
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TOM ALL ALONE'S by Lynn Shepherd conjures up so many vivid images that it is like taking trip back in time to Victorian England ala H.G. Wells time machine. The writing is so descriptive you can almost smell the aromas pouring from the sewage laden streets which are inhabited by their equally filthy residents. Add to this scenario a former policeman turned private detective (Charles Maddox), a less than ethical lawyer named Tulkinghorn, some perverted and unscrupulous "fine gentlemen" who will go to any lengths to conceal their secrets, and a couple of mysteries waiting to be solved and you have the makings of a great read.

While pursuing the case of a missing woman for his one and only client, Charles is hired by lawyer Tulkinghorn to discover the identity of the culprit sending threatening letters to one of his rich patrons. We accompany Charles in his journey down the gas lit streets of London as his investigation turns up more information than he had anticipated and he uncovers a plethora of foul deeds perpetrated on the innocent and unaware. Like a bloodhound on the scent Charles pursues these leads, and death, brutality and bodily harm result.

Relationships are the order of the day in this novel and two play pivotal roles in this story. Charles relationship with his uncle whose appears to be suffering from Alzheimer's, and the bonds described in a separate narrative supplied by a young woman named Hester. The reader knows that all of these items somehow tie the mysterious storylines together but is not exactly sure of the "how, who and why".

While this novel may not appeal to every reader and some of the pronunciation of words employed by the less educated individuals who appear here and there in the story may be difficult to discern, overall this book is a real treat. If you are a lover of the works of Charles Dickens, this book delivers an atmospheric adventure that will be right up your alley.

PLEASE NOTE: This book is also published under the title The Solitary House
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Variation on Dickens' Bleak House, 20 Sep 2012
I love the idea of Lynn Shepherd's Tom-All-Alone's which is based on Charles Dickens' Bleak House. It does help to know the Dickens original and that adds extra nuances to the book - including understanding who the murderer is - but the new characters are very strong and their stories add much to the book. It's also interesting seeing Dickens' Inspector Bucket from a different angle. I thought Shepherd's Charles Maddox, a former police officer, now private detective, was a great character and it will be interesting to see him in future books.

There is much to recommend this book and I just wish the frequent comparisons to the more modern world, including the First World War in the 1850s-set book's first paragraph, had been omitted as they undermine the book, forcing the reader out of Victorian London and into more modern times or even the present world which makes for uncomfortable reading - and is the reason this, for me, is a 3* book.

But the writing and plotting is excellent. I recommend reading it - then reading Dickens' Bleak House.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tom-All-Alone's, 28 Mar 2012
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Keen Reader "lhendry4" (Auckland, New Zealand) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Tom-All-Alone's (Charles Maddox 2) (Hardcover)
Being familiar with Bleak House, I approached the book with some trepidation (would it be disappointing precisely because of its links with Bleak House) and with some anticipation (would the wonderful Bleak House story be reflected in some measure in this story).

I am left with two quite strong opinions about this book. One, is that it is a shame that it is so inextricably linked with Charles Dickens' Bleak House, as anyone who is not familiar with that book will have difficulty picking up some of the nuances in the story here presented - some of the characters that are seen in passing, some of the literary devices used by the storytellers.

Two, is that it would have stood well as a Victorian murder mystery on its own, without having been so linked with Bleak House. Change some of the character's names, remove some of the literary tricks used by the author in tying it to Bleak House, and it would have been a good standalone Victorian myster that would have been more accessible to more readers.

I found the author's use of trying to draw the reader into a rather voyeuristic viewpoint of the action e.g. "We are beginning to form a picture of this young man, but before you smile indulgently at the hopeless clutter, and dismiss him as a mere dilettante, remember that this is the age of the gifted amateur. Remember too, that in 1850 it is still possible - just - for an intelligent man to span the sciences ...". This both detracted from the flow of the story (which is after all set in Victorian England, not now), and distracted the reader, I found.

All that aside, the writing is well paced, the characters are three-dimensional, and it's just unfortunate overall that much of their characterisations of the Bleak House characters are drawn from another author's writing.

I keep going back and forth on a final opinion of this book - I think it was good, not great; and I'd probably be more inclined to re-read Bleak House than this story. Having said that, I'd happily read more of this author's works, as they are well written (apart from my misgivings above) and engaging.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'These streets are no cause for comedy, and know no tones but grim and grey.', 26 Mar 2012
By 
L. H. Healy "Books are life, beauty and truth." (Cambridgeshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Tom-All-Alone's (Charles Maddox 2) (Hardcover)
It is 1850, and we are taken to the heart of Dickens' London, but it's a grim, dark, foul area that we are visiting, which is conjured up clearly for us, as we are warned when we start upon our journey: 'Muffle your face, if you can, against the stink of human and animal filth, and try not to look too closely at what it is that's caking your boots, and sucking at your tread.'

Charles Maddox worked in the Detective, as the police are referred to here. He is now working alone as an investigator, but maintaining the contacts he knew. Charles' great-uncle was his mentor and inspiration with his early detective work, but is sadly now slowly succumbing to illness, having lucid moments when he is the man Charles has always known him to be, making keen, sharp observations about investigations, but then becoming almost someone else entirely as he is seized by this illness, which we would now recognise as dementia. 'Maddox's mood can plummet and soar as quickly and as violently as his command of reason.'...'The terror of knowing how much he no longer knows, or how black the blank spaces are becoming.'

The 'widely feared' lawyer Edward Tulkinghorn, in Lincoln's Inn Fields, has significant clients whose private interests he takes care of and keeps concealed, and he 'is celebrated among his associates for his inscrutability.' He engages Charles in undertaking an investigation on behalf of one of his clients, but Charles is aware of the lawyer's reputation, and soon realises that all is not what it seems. Another strand of separate narrative is slotted in amongst the other chapters, and provided by an orphan named Hester, recounting to us in the first-person her happy childhood and subsequent removal after her mother's death to a new home, The Solitary House, under her new guardian.

This is a beautifully written story, such vividly evoked sights, smells and sounds of Victorian London, so atmospheric, such fascinating characters, and a clever murder mystery plot to keep us hooked. The author cleverly weaves separate strands of the story together and draws the reader in, wondering how everything may or may not be linked together, making you reluctant to put the book down for long; in fact, I think this novel rewards the reader who devours it in as few sittings as possible.

The reference to the reader by the narrator, including us in their comments and observations by the use of 'we' and 'us', pulls us tightly in to the story, making us a companion walking through those very streets: 'So let us explore a little, while we wait for Charles. We could do with him now,...' I loved the writing style and use of language. This description made me smile: 'In these shops, third-hand counts as spanking new and most of the articles are so made-do and mended that it's hard to make out what they might once have been.' I think the author's passion and interest in this period is evident.

The author draws on the setting, themes and characters of Dickens' novel Bleak House to construct this novel. I haven't read that novel, and very much enjoyed this book without having the benefit of reading Bleak House, but I would very much like to read it in future. It would surely be of added interest and pleasure to anyone who has read it, and certainly add another dimension to your reading of Tom-All-Alone's.

This (the hardback) is a gorgeous edition too, and was published in the month of the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Dickens.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars An Ugly Caricature of Bleak House, 21 Sep 2013
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I read a review, or blurb (I can't remember which) that described this as a bridge between Bleak House and The Woman in White. It is not. It is an ugly caricature of Bleak House.

I was confused as I got a little way into it as many of the Amazon reviews I read praised this book in the extreme. I went back to look at more of these reviews and found the more accurate ones, of which there were surprisingly few. One review simply said 'why read this when you can read Bleak House?" The only answer I can imagine is that Bleak House isn't quite so easy to read so perhaps this is an alternative for readers who are unable to grasp Dickens writing - and that isn't a criticism to those readers, all reading is good and I can understand why some may find Dickens difficult.

Still, if you are going to write a book, be original and if you can't manage that, at least be consistent. Some names change - Ester becomes Hester, Bleak House becomes Solitary House, Mr Jarndyce becomes Mr Jarvis - and so on. Some names remain the same - Mr Tulkinghorn, Inspector Bucket, Lady Dedlock to name a couple. Why, for heavens sake? It is very obvious who the characters with name changes are supposed to be.

Yet whilst some phrases are lifted directly from Bleak House, the plot here is nothing but an ugly parody of the original. Mr Jarvis (Jarndyce) isn't guardian to Hester and Clara (Esther and Ada), he is their pimp and Solitary House (Bleak House) isn't a happy home it is a whorehouse masquerading as a lunatic asylum.

I can only imagine that these books that twist and mock classic literature are written by those who have bad memories of literature classes at school and this is some kind of childish revenge. This particular author can obviously write but perhaps lacks the imagination to come up with their own work so plagiarises the work of those no longer around to defend their copyright.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Vividly realised - couldn't stop reading, 27 Jun 2012
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This review is from: Tom-All-Alone's (Charles Maddox 2) (Hardcover)
Tom-All-Alone's is both clever and ambitious, with a compelling story, great characters and a vividly realised 1850s London setting. It's the sort of book that would repay re-reading, possibly several times. It's also a better book then the author's previous novel, Murder at Mansfield Park. Yet while I happily gave that book 5 stars, Tom-All-Alone's just misses that mark because of its use of an omniscient modern narrator. While this is a playful and, again, clever conceit, I admired it without being able to forget about it, and it did pull me out of the story a couple of times.

There's a lot going on in this book. When we first meet hard up private detective Charles Maddox, he has recently left the Metropolitan detective force under a cloud. He is hunting a client's missing daughter with grim determination and little expectation of success. Then the powerful lawyer Edward Tulkinghorn hires Maddox to discover who is harassing a client with threatening letters. Thanks to the omniscient narrator, we learn straightaway that this deceptively simple job hides a sinister secret, one that will test Maddox's detective skills - and his tenacity - to the full.

There are several subplots, but the main one of these is narrated by a young woman called Hester, detailing her life in a place called Solitary House. These passages are so dreamy and innocent that they inspired an instant sense of creepiness, especially in contrast with the more action packed events of Maddox's story. Of course, these narratives do finally intersect in a suspenseful climactic scene that had me racing to finish it. I see some other reviewers here have criticised the plotting, but this seems a laughable charge to me, as Shepherd's plotting is both detailed and totally engrossing.

Often, when historical novels try too hard to pack in the colourful background stuff, it can overpower the story. Not so here. Maddox junior and Maddox senior are both flesh and blood characters you'd like to spend time with. The scenes between them are a joy, even while heart wrenching. There are also many stand out scenes, as well as some cracking twists. The murder of one character in particular was timed perfectly yet took me completely by surprise. That's brilliant writing, with only the narrative voice providing the occasional duff note.

Just as with Murder at Mansfield Park, I couldn't stop reading this novel, even at the expense of my beauty sleep. I can't wait for the next one.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Historical Murder Mystery, 7 Feb 2012
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This review is from: Tom-All-Alone's (Charles Maddox 2) (Hardcover)
It seems entirely appropriate that on the day that marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Dicken's birth I bring you a review of a new book inspired by his body of work. Regular readers will know that I tend to focus primarily on horror, science fiction and fantasy but occasionally I like to read something that is a bit outside my comfort zone. I certainly don't read a huge amount of historical fiction but when I heard about Tom-All-Alone's I have to admit that I was intrigued. The premise of a mystery set in the mists of Dickensian London appeals and by the time I got to the bottom of page one and read "Night and day London moves and sweats and bawls, as riddled with life as a corpse with maggots", I was sold.

Interspersed throughout the main story there is a second narrative following the story of a young woman called Hester. The chapters she appears in detail her life with friends in the seemingly idyllic Solitary House. Through the course of the novel the author starts to slowly drip feed the reader how Hester's tale ties in with the case that Maddox is investigating.

Like Dickens there are many larger than life characters that that vie for your attention, all of them pitched perfectly and each memorable in their own way. Charles Maddox is still finding his feet in his role as a detective and the mistakes that he makes feel that much more real. He is young man driven to discover the truth at all costs.

Maddox has a great uncle who he shares a name with. Maddox Snr was a great ` thief taker` in his time but is suffering from the vagaries of old age. It is becoming increasingly obvious to his family and friends that his once razor sharp mind is beginning to fail him. One moment he is fine, the next his is violent and then suddenly almost catatonic. He endeavours to offer his nephew what little assistance he can but is dying by degrees. The scenes between the two men are particularly touching and very effective. The reader gets glimpses of the investigator the old man once was and the high regard that his nephew still holds him in. Reading the novel with 21st century eyes it is interesting to see how 19th century characters deal with a condition as debilitating as Alzheimer's.

It is only right and proper for a private investigator to have an arch-nemesis on the police force and in Maddox case this comes in the form of inimitable Mr Bucket of the Detective. It's a highlight to see how their relationship evolves throughout the novel.

It's always a pleasure to discover a writer whose work instantly clicks with you. I sincerely hope there will be further mysteries featuring Charles Maddox. The evocative setting, well observed characters and tantalising storytelling had me hooked from the very outset. The writing deftly brings to life all the sights and sounds of the metropolis, however grotesque they have the potential to be. The opportunity to delve into the dark underbelly of Victorian society is just too good to miss. Lynn Shepherd's London is a world of corruption, violence, and dark unpleasant secrets with a little blackmail thrown in for good measure. This is exactly the sort of story I'd like to see adapted for the screen. Actually if the BBC happens upon this review I'm thinking lavish adaption perhaps in time for next winter? Seriously, you'd be on to a winner.

Tom-All-Alone's is published by Corsair and is available in the UK now and will be published as The Solitary House in US/Canada on 1st May 2012.
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Tom-All-Alone's (Charles Maddox 2)
Tom-All-Alone's (Charles Maddox 2) by Lynn Shepherd (Hardcover - 2 Feb 2012)
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