In the dying days of 1850 the young detective Charles Maddox takes on a new case. His client? The only surviving son of the long-dead poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and his wife Mary, author of Frankenstein. Charles soon finds himself being drawn into the bitter battle being waged over the poet’s literary legacy, but then he makes a chance discovery that raises new doubts about the death of Shelley’s first wife, Harriet, and he starts to question whether she did indeed kill herself, or whether what really happened was far more sinister than suicide. As he’s drawn deeper into the tangled web of the past, Charles discovers darker and more disturbing secrets, until he comes face to face with the terrible possibility that his own great-uncle is implicated in a conspiracy to conceal the truth that stretches back more than thirty years. The story of the Shelleys is one of love and death, of loss and betrayal.
Based on fact, A Treacherous Likeness is very much a work of fiction and represents the third novel by Lynn Shepherd to feature Charles Maddox Senior and the second to feature his nephew Charles Maddox, both thief-takers – private detectives to you and me. With a narrative that is both compelling and beautifully written the novel affords a great insight into 19th century living and the idiosyncrasies of that period taking in the sights and sounds of inner city living – the aromatic smells of horse dung and human waste – and the preferred Omnibus way of travelling from one address to another.
A Treacherous Likeness is the third book I’ve read from this author and given that this is way out of my comfort zone – as I’ve alluded to in my previous reviews – and the fact that I continue to want to read these books it is testament to one thing – an incredible narrative. There’s something about Lynn’s writing that sucks you in to this alien world, it wraps you in a warm and comforting blanket and never lets you go.
Mark my words this is a complex book and not for the fainthearted. The narrative is full to the brim with intriguing and colourful characters, each with a multitude of layers and history. I did find it hard to keep up at times and even though this is a slow burner of a story that unravels with patience and deliberation the author packs in so much over two time periods – 1850 and 1816 – and you do have to take stock now and then and make sure you know where you and the book are going. That said, I finished the book over one weekend in searing heat and the company of some fine wine! By far the quickest read of all three books.
Maddox is an enigmatic character, he’s intelligent, cantankerous and a little pugnacious at times but overall he is incredibly driven and it’s this drive that makes him tick. Shepherd knows where she is taking her protagonist and it certainly shows in the stories she weaves.
Without question one of the things that stood out for me in A Treacherous Likeness – in fact there were two things – the incredible and fictional personal letters and the multiple voices throughout – each written in a different format, each with their own characteristics that made it evident someone else was taking the lead. I can only dream of writing letters of such quality! This is one of the things that kept the novel moving forward at a decent pace and at times I felt I was reading a novel within a novel, such was the remarkable difference in narrative, but they all worked and blended well together, just like a good wholesome Victorian meal at Christmas.
Families at war, secrets and reputations to protect, unsavoury deaths and a sumptuous narrative in keeping with the time period all combine to make A Treacherous Likeness a jewel in the crown. Terrifically taut, the book is a fine example of how a writer should write.
- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Corsair (7 Feb 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1780331673
- ISBN-13: 978-1780331676