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4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 2 October 2005
Robert Goddard's take on the Martin Guerre theme of the ghost of the past returning to try to re-establish his identity, and be haunted by the present. It is the late Victorian era and we find a sophisticated English gentleman resurrecting himself from a supposed grave to become embroiled in emotional, legal, and violent contests as he endeavours to re-establish his name, claim the title and riches which are his due, and win back the woman he loved ... now married to another.
Goddard has built a reputation on his ability to weave mysteries and thrillers out of the passage of time - his stories reach back into the histories of his characters, explore the histories of nations, and create a depth and sophistication in storytelling which few can emulate. In 'Painting the Darkness', allusions to real events and the inclusion of real historical figures serve only to throw into relief the lack of verifiable history which James Norton can offer to prove his identity, and the refusal of his family and world to accept as valid the history he does provide.
This is a fairly lengthy novel, nearly 600 pages, and the first chapter is just a little slow. Goddard simulates the language of upper class, Victorian England - restrained, formal, refined; as you get into its rhythm and style, you become absorbed in the story, but those first few pages take you through a learning curve in the metre and formality of the language, and can be a little off-putting. Persevere, for this is a finely crafted tale, with Goddard's usual menu of red herrings, spiced and sauced, and served with many a twist.
Goddard is a very fine writer and an outstanding storyteller. 'Painting the Darkness' is no breakneck thriller - it moves at elegant pace, subtle as the swish of satin, graceful as a ballgown's passage across the floor, with just the hint of a well-turned ankle. Highly entertaining, with a convincing sense of place and time, it will keep you guessing to the end.
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on 22 April 2006
What a superb storyteller Robert Goddard is! From the very first pages the book grips you, and you find yourself wanting to know ever more...

The story doesn't move at breakneck speed, but Goddard times his story expertly, and you cannot help but find yourself wondering whether Norton is who he claims to be. Believe you me, Goddard will keep you guessing until the very end.

I should mention the prose too: the dialogues are absolutely first-rate, and the way Goddard can describe people and places, and conjure up an atmosphere is quite uncanny.
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on 8 April 2012
The story opens as William Trenchard relaxes in the apparent idyll of settled domesticity. Then a stranger appears, claiming to be the man to whom his wife was previously engaged - an affair of the heart, brought to a close by the suicide of the young man. The stranger wants to reclaim his place in his family and in society - but is he who he says he is?

This is a long book - 600 pages - and it is action packed. Set in the late 1800s with a fair share of villainy and skulduggery, it definitely merits the description 'atmospheric historical mystery'. I got the same enjoyment from it as I got from Sarah Waters Fingersmith. Sometimes, it seems to me that books of this length and readability are quite thin on the ground - and I always feel happy to have unearthed another one.
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on 30 October 2001
An excellent, atmospheric tale. It has all the layers, twists and turns that make Mr Goddard so readable. I thoroughly recommend it.
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on 10 April 2014
Another historical mystery epic from a master of the genre. After reading 4 of his books, I'm pretty sure that Goddard is more comfortable writing of bygone times; like many authors who existed in the periods his tales spend a lot of time in (or all the time in this case), Goddard is light on characterisation but lavish on story and setting. That's not a criticism, although it won't be to everyone's liking.

Goddard likes to flit between characters and time periods as his tales unfold, initially to confuse the reader, then to confuse the reader some more and finally to slowly explain what it all meant... well, in a fashion. In Painting the Darkness, he really lets loose; characters and time jumps come thick and fast and the reader has to concentrate to keep up. Eventually I got to know who was who (and when was when) and settled down to enjoy the story.

The plot twists and turns and keeps the reader guessing as one theory after another is dashed. The tale concerns James Norton, who turns up in 1882 claiming to be an heir who supposedly killed himself 11 years earlier. As always with Goddard, the reader is given the impression that things aren't quite what they seem. Almost the entire cast goes through some sort of turmoil or other, often with disastrous consequences. As the book drew to a close, it seemed to me that Goddard had to a few options that might suit an ending, but (not for the first time!) discarded them all and settled on one that few readers would have guessed. I found it to be a somewhat disappointing conclusion to this sprawling epic.

So, excellent story telling, but not Goddard's best. A solid 3.5 stars if it were possible, I can't bring myself to give it 4 stars, so 3 it is.
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on 27 June 2006
In the first day of October 1882, William Trenchard, co-owner of the Trenchard & Leavis retailing chain, is still a happy man in his marital status with his wife Constance Sumner. In the afternoon of that same day, a tall, slim and elegantly dresses man comes to The Limes residence and introduces himself under the name of James Davenall.
A firework of characters, twists and turns, plots and subplots. Mr Goddard is quite a storyteller and his adventures are an excellent entertainment. The book is read in an astonishingly vivacious way by the British actor Michael Kitchen who delivers a very good performance.
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on 1 July 2013
Like all of Robert Goddard's stories, this displays a meticulous eye for historical and geographical detail. However, be aware that as a reader this demands a high level of alertness and concentration. The narrative constantly flits (without warning or preamble) between between 1882 and earlier points in time. The story takes in Ireland, Switzerland and the USA too, as well as England. I found myself constantly looking at the family tree, even towards the end of the novel when I should have been familiar with the characters. As another reviewer has pointed out, it is also difficult to identify a central character - everyone seems flawed in some way.
That said, this is a clever, intelligent and engrossing story, worthy of Wilkie Collins and Daphne Du Maurier, with the usual twists that we have come to expect form Goddard. It would be interesting to see this filmed or dramatized for TV, but sadly, it would probably be too deep and slow moving for modern TV companies.
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on 29 November 2004
Quite possibly the finest mystery I've ever read. Listening to the tape version in my car, I nearly ran off the road when the story pulled its big punch ... and I do mean BIG. Hold on to your hats. You will never, ever forget this one.
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on 19 March 1999
Bravo Robert Goddard!!! What a magnificent novel you have written. One of the very best novels I have ever read.
Set in the last century, this complex and compelling novel takes many interesting twists and turns leading up to the incredible climax. I savoured every moment of reading this novel, and will want to re-read it again soon. A masterpiece!!
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on 11 June 2014
This otherwise excellent book was spoiled for me by one unfortunate error. It would not be fair were I to give away any of the plot but one incident concerns a brake cable on a bicycle. Such cables were not in use at the time in which the story is set.
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