Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

A Treacherous Likeness - Lynn Shepherd

‘Thoughts of the past pursue me like a treacherous likeness of myself…’

Once again the reader is invited by the all-knowing, all-seeing narrator to journey back with them and revisit the past so vividly reawakened by this author. We join with Charles Maddox again, this time late in 1850, as he investigates a new case. Charles is enlisted by Sir Percy and Lady Shelley to look into matters surrounding none other than Percy Bysshe Shelley, the romantic poet, and his wife Mary, writer of Frankenstein. Sir Percy is the only surviving son of the poet who died back in 1822.

Charles is asked to look into missing papers that may be held by certain people, with Lady Shelley in particular being keen to rid the world of any papers which may further besmirch Shelley’s reputation. There is more to this than meets the eye, as Charles begins to suspect, and his investigations will reveal secrets regarding the couple and their wider family and circle, and cause Charles to question the truth about the death of Shelley’s first wife, Harriet, who, it was believed, had killed herself; is there a darker side to the story? Walking alongside Charles as he weaves his way through an ever expanding web of secrets, we learn about the shocking events of the past that have thus far been concealed.

Charles’ great-uncle Maddox, himself a much admired and respected detective of his day, features once again in this novel; indeed his role is a prominent one, and as we step back further into the past, to 1814, we learn of his previous work for members of this extended family, and we begin to wonder at the real extent of his involvement with them. Maddox suffers and endures the cruel illness mentioned as blighting him in the author’s previous novel, Tom-All-Alone’s; indeed his health appears to take an even worse turn on hearing the name Shelley again after so many years.

This is another lovely, richly imagined historical mystery novel from Lynn Shepherd. She weaves together such a mysterious web of literary lives, delivering a great mystery, brilliantly written, delving into pasts and mysteries that have never been fully clarified and offering us an interpretation of these events and possible answers in this fictionalised account. The author states from the outset that 'what follows is a work of fiction, but it is one based on fact.'

The author transported me back to another time and introduced me to dark secrets and people with hidden truths and sides to their lives, each with their own motivations and passions driving them forwards, and many harbouring their own peculiar torment, sadness or suffering.

I was drawn deep into their tangled relationships, and I was extremely curious as to how the mystery would unravel. I felt the uncertainty, the sadness and loss, the lies and jealousies, the many moments of passionate love and the tragic encounters with death that these people had endured.

I was compelled to keep reading, to keep looking into this world and discover more of the Shelleys and the Godwins, to consider the many and varied sides to these intriguing characters that are hinted at and depicted here, to think about things and consider these complex relationships. I was fascinated in particular by the character Claire Clairmont, who I knew nothing of before reading this work, but who is so fully brought to life for me here. 

The language used is perfect for a narrative that delves back to this period in time, it conveys the atmosphere of the surroundings, and is fitting for telling this tale. The extensive research conducted is evident within this well-plotted story. I enjoyed being in the company once again of the omniscient narrator who is able to look both forwards and back in time. I also enjoyed being back in the surroundings of Victorian London and being a guest in the Maddox household, where Charles is not always fully aware of events around him.

The novel prompted me to discover more about these figures from our literary heritage. The extended family tree included at the start of the book is a very welcome addition that I referred to many times whilst reading. 

The author's own interest in and enthusiasm for her subject comes through whilst reading, and there is an engrossing combination of truth, mystery, and intrigue in the story here which all combine to make for an engaging and rewarding read. I very much hope that Charles will return once again as I am excited to follow him on another investigation soon. 

Published by Corsair on February 7th 2013

Thanks very much to the publisher for sending a copy of this novel to read and review.

You can find the author on twitter @Lynn_Shepherd and visit her website here - it offers some wonderful extra background information about her books.

You can read my review of Tom-All-Alone's by Lynn Shepherd here.


  1. This sounds excellent! I need to check out this author :)

    I found your blog via Beck Valley Books, and am a new GFC follower.

    I hope your week is wonderful :)

    1. Thanks for visiting and following Lexxie Lin! Much appreciated.

  2. What a fantastic review it really sounds like an excellent read, thanks.
    Also thanku for popping over to our UK Bloggers linky, now following you xx

    1. Thanks very much for visiting and commenting Sharon. Also thank you for setting up the UK Bloggers list, sounds like a great idea!

  3. Fabulous review Lins and I can only agree with your opinion :)

    1. Thanks for commenting Shaz. Looking forward to reading your thoughts of this one too. x


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