4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Vividly realised - couldn't stop reading,
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.