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on 22 June 2014
Oh dear, what can I say? This is far worse than Tom All Alone's in its literary method; there, at least a work of fiction i.e Bleak House, was warped and twisted by the author's parasitic mode of writing and no real people were depicted in a damaging light. In A Treacherous Likeness, however, real people are trashed, including Mary Shelley who is portrayed as a semi-psychopath who is capable of child murder. It's a queasy mixture of fact and fiction and, as Daisy Hay so succinctly said in her Guardian review of March 2013, it's a great pity that the denouement is so mean-spirited, ill-conceived and nasty.

If only (as I said before in my review of Tom All Alone's) the author would ditch her academic credentials/research and stop using other authors and real people as a crutch to support her fiction. She can write well (except when her pastiche of Dickens becomes over-arch) and Charles Maddox is an engaging central character, but I'm afraid I felt deeply irritated by this book. It's mean to say this when a lot of hard work must have gone into this book, but I couldn't help thinking her thesis about Mary Shelley was in very poor taste.
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This book is written in lovely prose - but I hate its depiction of Mary Shelley which is vicious, malicious and would be positively libellous if written about someone alive today. Shepherd has read the standard biographies, the letters, the journals - and then has chosen to ignore them in creating a monstrous Mary Shelley.

Unlike Shepherd's last two books, this doesn't make an intervention into a classic novel, instead it takes on the Shelley `circle' - Shelley, Byron, Mary Shelley, Claire Clairmont - and, particularly, the motifs of death that followed them: the suicides of Shelley's first wife, and Mary Shelley's half-sister Fanny Imlay; the succession of dead babies; the early death of Shelley himself before the age of 30, and turns them into a personal indictment of Mary Shelley.

Shepherd tries to justify her treatment in an afterword but I'm afraid I disagree both with her thesis (for which there is no evidence) and the way in which she puts it forward in this book. Her argument about the authorship question of Frankenstein can be fairly easily discounted as the 1818 manuscript for the novel exists in the Bodleian in Mary Shelley's handwriting, and Shepherd's assertion that it was dictated by Shelley is spurious in the extreme. More pressing, however, is the unpleasant emotional manipulations this book makes in its depiction of Mary Shelley, and its radical re-writing of the relationship between Claire Clairmont and Shelley.

I can't expand without significant spoilers but readers may want to compare this novel with some of the scholarly literature on the Shelley `circle': Richard Holmes' seminal Shelley: The Pursuit, and Janet Todd's Shelley and the Maiden are particularly relevant to some of the issues central to this book, though offering very different and far more subtle and nuanced interpretations without whitewashing or eliding the undoubtedly disturbing elements of the story. There are also many volumes of letters and journals from all these participants which are available in university and research libraries, and which serve as the basis for the biographies noted above.

It may be argued that this as `just fiction' - but I'm afraid I found this a jaundiced, hostile and deeply unpleasant recreation of a woman whose own writings reveal someone very different. Read this by all means, but do bear in mind that it's one person's rendition, in fictional form, of a group of real people who, sadly, can't defend themselves against the profoundly disturbing accusations made against them here.
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on 12 March 2015
This is a very classy, beautifully put together historical mystery set in Dickensian London, but exploring the murky, destructive menage of Percy Bysshe Shelley and his second wife Mary Godwin. It's satisfyingly page-turning, but many of its pleasures are literary, scholarly and intellectual.
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on 16 July 2013
I really liked the second Maddox book, Tom All Alone's, but this one is a different matter and I have given up on it a third the way through. It is excessively verbose with long, boring tracts (fictionally) ascribed to Shelley and his mistress, has a very contrived story line and is just plain dull, at least so far. However, I shall not persist with it to find out if it improves and, in any case, I suspect I know how it will pan out. This is a pity because Ms Shepherd captured the Dickensian zeitgeist beautifully in TAA but this, I'm afraid, is a pot-boiler as far as I'm concerned. More effort required in future I think.
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on 30 July 2014
This is a very enjoyable read and a great follow-up to 'Tom-All-Alones'. I always think that the sign of a really good book is one that leads you on to want to read more - in this case I want to read more about the real lives of the Shelleys. I know that this author has received some bad press because of certain comments, but Shepherd is a very good author of adult mysteries. Let's just say that some people are better at writing children's books and some are better at writing for adults!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 February 2013
n the middle of the 19th century, young detective Charles Maddox is called to the London home of Sir Percy Shelley and his wife Lady Jane. The only surviving child of the poet Shelley and his novelist wife Mary, Percy wants to protect the reputation of his increasingly infamous parents by buying up any and all rogue letters that threaten the safety of the past. Maddox is given the name of the latest pedlar of letters but he soon discovers that this is no ordinary tittle tatler - Claire Clairmont is the stepsister of Mary Shelley and what she knows could be lethal to the memory of the Romantic poet as well as to Mary, the author of Frankenstein.

This tale, though, follows a dark and twisted path. The light of romanticism and love is obscured by the night of madness, corrupt desire, death and vengeance. There is another reason for Percy and Jane to hire Maddox to put a stop to Claire's memoirs. They know that Maddox has his own connection to Shelley through his great uncle, also called Charles Maddox, who fell into a catatonic stricken state, close to dying, just at the mention of the word `Shelley'. The younger Maddox must blunder on, building together the pieces from the lives of Shelley, Mary, Claire and Shelley's first wife, Harriet. So many of them, including their children, are dead. Maddox is so intent on the past, though, including that of his great uncle, that he can barely see what's going on in front of his eyes. It's all quite a riddle.

My knowledge of Shelley (Mr and Mrs) and Byron is limited to gothic movies and university seminars. Having been drawn to them as an impressionable youngster for their hedonistic frolicking amongst the sun-drenched ruins of Italy, now I find them alarming and ambiguous. A Treacherous Likeness makes me take another look, combining the conventional view with the tragic reality of lives cut short, often mysteriously, and sometimes at a cruelly young age. I'm not going to pretend to like Shelley or Mary Shelley. Both are clearly damaged, as are some of the others around them. Here, though, there are suggestions of something even blacker. These are tortured individuals, often very hard to sympathise with. There's a strong sense that it all has to be resolved. The job, though, isn't made easy for Maddox.

A Treacherous Likeness is an immersive novel. It steeps you in the time through its present tense narrative, its sense of place and immediacy, its fidelity to mid 19th-century styles of storytelling. This could take a while to get used to, it did for me, but once comfortable in the style, the reader is treated to an evocative, atmospheric maze of a read. It is extremely moving in places just as there are other parts of it which made me feel disgust. It's a story that provokes strong feelings.

This novel follows on from Maddox's earlier investigation in Tom-All-Alone's but it stands strong on its own feet. A Treacherous Likeness is a tale of love, loss and madness, which is never simple but is very hard to put down. I'm grateful for the review copy.
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on 19 May 2013
Lynn Shepherd's new novel of place, character and time is the second exploration into the life of Charles Maddox, Victorian era investigator. In this outing he is hired by descendents of Percy Bysshe Shelley to retrieve some papers that could prove to be most damaging to the memory of the poet as well as ruinous the reputation of the family. A FATAL LIKENESS (also published as A TREACHEROUS LIKENESS) is a haunting, moody and beautifully executed novel that left me thinking about the characters and their secret lives long after I had closed the cover on the final page. The author's rather interesting and circumspect speculations are based upon her in depth research and left me with many questions about Shelley, his wife Mary and her step-sister Claire. Did Mary really write the celebrated FRANKENSTEIN novel or was it really Shelley? Was Shelley, the twice-wed unfaithful husband, really a closet pedophile who also suffered from paranoia and manic depression? Was the death of the couples' children the result of Munchausen by proxy or simple a case of bad luck? How many women loved Shelley and what was the cost of that love to each of them? Guess I, like Ms. Shepherd will have to follow in her footsteps and do some research of my own to determine

There are secrets to be unearthed from their hiding places in the many layers of this historical fiction narrative, some that directly involve Maddox's great uncle, whose declining health and memory preclude him from providing Charles with direct assistance as he struggles to ferret out answers to mysteries long buried.

Each secret is slowly revealed via letters, long concealed confessions and case histories, posthumous messages and questionable deaths in a tale that reads like a cross between a biography, a mystery, and a fairy tale straight out of Grimm.

For readers who dislike the third person style of writing, this book may prove to be a bit off-putting, but for those who enjoy well written reading matter that juxtaposes fascinating details of Regency and Victorian era personages and the cultural idiosyncrasies of the era with today's conventional wisdom it should prove to be a thought provoking read. Obviously, THE ROMANTICS refers only to their poetry because closer examination of their personal lives would have earned them the label of "THE CHAOTICS". 3 1/2 stars
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on 9 April 2014
Ms Shepherd's new-found notoriety drew me to read the first chapter or so of this book. I can understand why the author launched into a really nasty rant against an infinitely more successful writer - jealousy and resentment. The rant made no sense. Fueled perhaps by a glass or two of wine, she did herself no favours. Dependent as many authors are on Amazon, the flood of readers' negative comments will have more or less destroyed her chances of selling books through this medium. What a shame - a career ruined by a few dozen ill-chosen words.
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on 9 April 2014
A boring drivel of a novel. It's poorly researched and written. Dull and tiresome. A complete waste of time and money.
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Lynn Shepherd continues her sure, impeccably researched, stylish, dark, inventive journey into the historical, literary, murder mystery genre.

Lest this all sounds far too much of a hotch-potch, rest assured Shepherd is an author who can collect together bits and pieces of information, literary genres, literary tricks, and make something new so that you don't even notice the joins

This is her third book with one of two detectives, both called Charles Maddox. Each book can be read as a stand-alone, but there is no doubt there is an especial enjoyment to be had if the reader has made the earlier journeys.

Her first book saw Charles Maddox senior, investigating an alternative world for Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. Mansfield Park had a much less satisfying, rather glumly good long suffering victim heroine, Fanny Price, rather than the usual spirited, intelligent woman Austen gives us. Using THAT book as a springboard, Shepherd gave the world a twist, and brought a darker world, though still witty, into play, with the investigation of a murder, Murder at Mansfield Park

With her second novel, she got even darker and seamier, in Tom-All-Alone's (Charles Maddox 2), an amalgam of Dickens' Bleak House, Wilkie Collins' The Woman In White, and Henry Mayhew's real investigation of the dark underbelly of Victorian capitalism, London Labour and the London Poor (Wordsworth Classics of World Literature) So, she was still playing with plots from classic novels, and this time, her detective was Charles Maddox junior (great nephew of the Austen detective)

For this third book, she blurs the division between the real and the imagined still further, as young Charles Maddox (with the elder Maddox involved in the ensuing events forty years earlier) investigates the mysterious, messy lives of Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and his female circle - he of the tangled romantic liaisons with very young women (something Shepherd rightly identifies a twenty first century reader might feel remarkably queasy about). Espousing anarchism, free love, atheism at the early part of the eighteenth century was one thing - and no doubt Shelley and his poetry fed easily into libertarian sympathies (plus of course some soaring, elegiac poetry) However, as biographers have shown (and Shepherd utilises) the man did seem to bring an extraordinary collection of ruined young women, suicides, and the death of children along with him. There seems at the time to have been a bit of an industry by his widow (Mary Shelley, the probable author of Frankenstein - though this has been more recently in question), surviving son, and son's wife, to give Shelley's life a severe whitewashing. Modern biographers have uncovered a lot of supposed very shady goings on, with the whole gang of Shelleys and Godwins of dubious moral scruples. A pretty stinking kettle of fish, all told.

It is this tangled web of whitewashed history, possibly very dirty linen and intrigue which Shepherd unleashes Charles Maddox into, turning a dark and shocking tale at times deliciously playful as she makes us, the reader, complicit as omniscient readers to her omniscient narrator.

However, much as I enjoyed this book, and the way Shepherd mangled my perceptions, and toyed with my understanding of what was going on and whom to believe, I am left with a couple of uncomfortable questions about `rewriting' real people's lives, particularly with some very murky allegations indeed. I discovered Shepherd `invented' less than I thought she did, as she very correctly identifies which facts have been unearthed by recent, unwhitewashed biographies, and where she invented, but still, I have questions about `faction' It is one thing to imagine how a real person may have felt at the time of a real event, or what their motivations may have been for their real actions; it is quite another to invent dark events, which they are the protagonists of. I was left with a sense of moral ambiguity. What are the ethics of literary invention, in the lives of real people? Shepherd may well have transgressed such ethics. The dead cannot speak.

I received this as a pre-release ARC

Readers beware, for some obscure reason, exactly as with her second novel, there is a different title and publisher for the US and UK editions - BOTH of which are available on Amazon UK. This novel is called A Treacherous Likeness published by Corsair. In August, A Fatal Likeness (the same book!) will be published by Delacorte. Very confusing and annoying!
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