by D. J. Taylor


by D. J. Taylor


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When Henry Ireland dies unexpectedly from what appears to be a riding accident in August 1863, the failed landowner leaves behind little save his high-strung young widow, Isabel—who somehow ends up in the home of Ireland's friend James Dixey. A celebrated naturalist, Dixey collects strange trophies in his secluded, decaying manse and has questionable associations with rather unsavory characters—including a pair of thuggish poachers named Dewar and Dunbar. Dixey's precocious, inquisitive young servant, Esther, cannot turn a blind eye to the suspicious activities surrounding her. While in the crime-ridden streets of London, a determined captain of Scotland Yard follows the threads that may well link a daring train robbery to the disappearance of a disturbed heiress as well as to the possible murder of Henry Ireland.

D. J. Taylor's Kept is a gorgeously intricate, dazzling reinvention of Victorian life and passions that is also a riveting investigation into some of the darkest, most secret chambers of the human heart.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061146091
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: 08/12/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 480
Product dimensions: 5.36(w) x 10.58(h) x 1.19(d)

About the Author

D. J. Taylor is a novelist, critic, and acclaimed biographer of William Thackeray and George Orwell. His Orwell: The Life won the Whitbread Award in 2003. Married with three children, he lives in Norwich, England.

Read an Excerpt

A Novel

Chapter One


I will happily declare that there is no sight so harmonious to the eye or suggestive to the spirit as Highland scenery. A man who sits on the Metropolitan Railway to Marylebone may be comforted by what he sees, but I do not think he will be inspired. A ziggurat raised by some bold industrialist for the purposes of his manufacture is an edifying spectacle, no doubt, but a mountain is moral. Philosophy quails before it, science grows mutely respectful and literature is both exalted and cast down. The traveller who desires a sense of his own insignificance will discover it here on some descending slope, down in the shadow of some mighty summit, there beneath some rill that has run since the dawn of time. God walks in the mountains, but it is the mountains that will drive Him out, with their granite secrets and the truth that lies concealed in their stone, and mankind be reduced to an antlike insubstantiality beside them. Or so we are told.

It was late in the afternoon of an April day in the year of Our Lord 186–, on a steam engine moving slowly forward—impossibly slowly—along the Highland line through Inverness-shire, a line so lately instituted that everything about it had an air of novelty. The uniforms of the officials shone as if they had only that morning arrived in bandboxes from the seamstress, the engine appeared to have been polished overnight, and even the passengers—subdued Highland folk, for the most part, with their baggage piled at their feet—seemed to have donned their best clothes for the occasion. All this Dunbar observed from his seat in the corner of thethird-class carriage, and though grateful for the mechanised wonder that drew him nearer his destination, he thought that he did not like it. Outside the window the sky was darkening, so that the distant peaks and the valley through which they ran turned red and purple, and for a moment he bent his eye on what lay beyond him rather than things nearer at hand. A herd of Highland cattle grazing the sloping moor; a woman and her child waiting patiently at a wayside crossing; a flock of birds—he knew about birds, for in a certain sense they were his profession—wheeling away to the north: all these Dunbar saw and brought together in his mind to feed his sense of dissatisfaction.

"Of course," he said at length, "it's not as if they're civilised folk in these parts."

The words brought Dewar, who lay sprawled next to him on the double seat of the compartment, one arm thrown over the square teak box they had brought from Edinburgh that morning, out of his half slumber.

"Ain't they, though?"

"Surely not! Why it's not more than a century since Cumberland smoked them out and made them pay. My grandfather's father fought at Culloden. Saw a man stick a babby with a bayonet. Said it would stay with him till his dying day."

Dewar drew himself up from his slouch and began to dust down his shirt-front with a spotted handkerchief that he took from the pocket of his coat.

"Why would a man stick a babby with a bayonet? It seems an uncommon devilish thing to do."

A fellow passenger, moving along the train's corridor, had that traveller peered in through the compartment window, would have seen an odd assortment of persons and their gear. Dunbar, a tall, gaunt man of perhaps fifty years of age, wore a green sporting jacket and a pair of corduroy trousers, which combination made him look not unlike a gamekeeper. Dewar, shorter and rather younger, was the more ill-favoured of the two, fat and somewhat unhealthy-looking, his costume completed by a shabby frock coat of which the braid was beginning to part company with the lapels. Rolled up in bundles on luggage racks, or strewn about on the floor, lay a variety of miscellaneous items, each of which posed some question as to the object of their journey: a pair of heavy walking boots, two cork life jackets, a woollen scarf and a coiled length of rope. Dewar's gaze, which had fallen for a moment or two on the square teak box, widened to take in this further cargo.

"We seem to have brought a deal of stuff with us. How are we to carry it all, I should like to know?"

Something in the set of Dunbar's eye perhaps disclosed that he did not regard his associate with complete confidence. "I can see you're new to this game, my boy. Green you are indeed. Why, when we get to the other end there'll be a gig to meet us. Take us right to where we want to go as well, I shouldn't wonder."

There was an unspoken question in this statement which the younger man either did not appreciate or chose not to answer. But his companion persisted.

"What line of trade was you in before Bob Grace pushed you my way?"


Something in this spoke of ruinous mischance, of hope denied, tragedy even. Another man would have given up the pursuit, but Dunbar continued easily.

"General or green stuff?"


"Any reason for giving it up?"

Dewar stared before him at the cork life jackets draped over the opposing seat. "Wife took bad and I had to nurse her. It's hard on a fellow when that happens."

"Harder still when she dies. Very hard. Here, have a fill of this and you'll feel better."

They smoked Dunbar's tobacco companionably for a while, nodding at the people who wandered along the corridor and resting their feet on their bundles. It was now perhaps half past four in the afternoon, and the light was growing grey. Outside the land continued to rise, and there were shadows creeping down among the granite escarpments of the hills. The day was drawing in. Dunbar was not an imaginative man—a rock to him was a rock that might have to be scaled, a mountain stream the hazard of wet feet—but nonetheless something of the bleakness of the prospect communicated itself to him and he clasped his hands together against a cold that he could not yet feel but knew would come.

A Novel
. Copyright © by D. Taylor. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are Saying About This

Philippa Gregory

“...a genuinely fascinating reading experience…a powerful contribution to the changing practice of historical fiction.”

Francis King

“It is unlikely that many such offerings will equal, let alone surpass, D.J. Taylor’s Kept”

Susan Hill

“Kept is a great read. It intrigues, diverts and delights. It is clever and intricate and huge fun.”

Simon Baker

“A gripping tale, crafted with passion and intelligence, and an honorable addendum to the golden age of the English novel.”

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst

“A smartly satisfying novel…Intricate and vividly realized…a pin-sharp recreation of 19th century life....a playful reimagining of history”

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