The Solitary House: A Novel

( 15 )

Overview

Lynn Shepherd’s first acclaimed novel of historical suspense, Murder at Mansfield Park, brilliantly reimagined the era of Jane Austen. Now, in this spellbinding new triumph, she introduces an unforgettable duo of detectives into the gaslit world of Dickens.
 
London, 1850. Charles Maddox had been an up-and-coming officer for the Metropolitan police until a charge of insubordination abruptly ended his career. Now he works alone, struggling ...

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The Solitary House (with bonus novels Bleak House and The Woman in White)

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Overview

Lynn Shepherd’s first acclaimed novel of historical suspense, Murder at Mansfield Park, brilliantly reimagined the era of Jane Austen. Now, in this spellbinding new triumph, she introduces an unforgettable duo of detectives into the gaslit world of Dickens.
 
London, 1850. Charles Maddox had been an up-and-coming officer for the Metropolitan police until a charge of insubordination abruptly ended his career. Now he works alone, struggling to eke out a living by tracking down criminals. Whenever he needs it, he has the help of his great-uncle Maddox, a legendary “thief taker,” a detective as brilliant and intuitive as they come.
 
On Charles’s latest case, he’ll need all the assistance he can get.
 
To his shock, Charles has been approached by Edward Tulkinghorn, the shadowy and feared attorney, who offers him a handsome price to do some sleuthing for a client. Powerful financier Sir Julius Cremorne has been receiving threatening letters, and Tulkinghorn wants Charles to—discreetly—find and stop whoever is responsible.
 
But what starts as a simple, open-and-shut case swiftly escalates into something bigger and much darker. As he cascades toward a collision with an unspeakable truth, Charles can only be aided so far by Maddox. The old man shows signs of forgetfulness and anger, symptoms of an age-related ailment that has yet to be named.
 
Intricately plotted and intellectually ambitious, The Solitary House is an ingenious novel that does more than spin an enthralling tale: It plumbs the mysteries of the human mind.

Praise for The Solitary House
 
“A Victorian tour de force . . . a must-read.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
 
“Dickens fans will rejoice. . . . [Lynn] Shepherd leaves the reader spellbound.”Booklist (starred review)
 
“The star of Lynn Shepherd’s intriguing mystery novel is mid-century Victorian London. . . . Her suspenseful story and winning prose ably serve her literary conceit.”—Associated Press
 
“Intellectually enthralling, with dark twists at every turn . . . a haunting novel that will have you guessing until the last pages.”—Historical Novels Review
 
“Lynn Shepherd has a knack for setting literary murder puzzles. . . . This literary magpie-ism is a treat for book lovers, a little nudge-and-a-wink here and there which delights fans of these other works without alienating those who haven’t read them yet. . . . An intelligent, gripping and beautifully written novel.”—The Scotsman
 
“The reader is plunged into a complex but comprehensible labyrinth of deception.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for The Solitary House
 
“A Victorian tour de force . . . a must-read.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
 
“Dickens fans will rejoice. . . . [Lynn] Shepherd leaves the reader spellbound.”Booklist (starred review)
 
“The star of Lynn Shepherd’s intriguing mystery novel is mid-century Victorian London. . . . Her suspenseful story and winning prose ably serve her literary conceit.”—Associated Press
 
“Intellectually enthralling, with dark twists at every turn . . . a haunting novel that will have you guessing until the last pages.”—Historical Novels Review
 
“Lynn Shepherd has a knack for setting literary murder puzzles. . . . This literary magpie-ism is a treat for book lovers, a little nudge-and-a-wink here and there which delights fans of these other works without alienating those who haven’t read them yet. . . . An intelligent, gripping and beautifully written novel.”—The Scotsman
 
“The reader is plunged into a complex but comprehensible labyrinth of deception.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Publishers Weekly
Shepherd follows her 2010 debut, Murder at Mansfield Park, which successfully channeled Jane Austen, with an equally satisfying reworking of Bleak House, which Dickens once considered titling The Solitary House. The Machiavellian lawyer from Bleak House, Edward Tulkinghorn, seeks out private operative Charles Maddox, who was discharged from the Metropolitan Police after butting heads with Inspector Bucket (another character from the Dickens novel), ostensibly to track down the poison pen writer targeting Sir Julius Cremorne, head of London’s oldest merchant bank. The omniscient narrative voice reveals that Maddox is being used as a stalking horse, and the reader is soon plunged into a complex but comprehensible labyrinth of deception and violence. Maddox makes some serious missteps, a refreshing change from the typical all-knowing detective. The sensitive portrayal of his relationship with his aging great-uncle and mentor lends depth. Maddox could well carry a series. Agent: Ben Mason, FoxMason. (May)
Library Journal
Shepherd's debut, Murder at Mansfield Park, investigated trouble in Jane Austen's world from the perspective of a minor Austen character—and went on to win awards, including Best First Mystery from Romantic Times. Her new work introduces an independent detective in Victorian London. Being compared to Iain Pears's An Instance of the Fingerpost; buy accordingly.
Kirkus Reviews
Shepherd's latest detective story (Murder at Mansfield Park, 2010) is a Victorian tour de force that borrows characters from Charles Dickens' Bleak House and Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White. Ever since Metropolitan police officer Charles Maddox was dismissed for insubordination, he's eked out a living as a private detective. He currently has two cases. The first is finding the grandchild of a man who had cast out his pregnant daughter years before. The second is identifying the writer of threatening scrawls for Edward Tulkinghorn, a powerful attorney who represents the interests of the wealthy and high-born. Charles has learned a good deal from his great uncle. Now that this brilliant detective and mentor is slipping into the dark world of age-related mental illness, Charles, moving into his home to supervise his care, benefits from his meticulously kept case notes. At length he realizes that his work for Tulkinghorn is leaving in its wake a string of corpses, many of them evidently connected to the horrific murder of several women. In 1850s England it is no easy task to confront the noble clients Tulkinghorn is protecting, but Charles is determined to discover the truth no matter where it leads. He is savagely attacked and even arrested. Can he rely on Inspector Bucket's assurances that he is on Charles' side? The enterprising sleuth's life may depend on the answer when his two cases come together in a horrifying denouement. Shepherd offers an intricate plot and a thousand details of the least-admirable side of Victorian life. A must-read.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345532435
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/30/2013
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 258,902
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 7.84 (h) x 0.79 (d)

Meet the Author

Lynn Shepherd is the author of the award-winning Murder at Mansfield Park. She studied English at Oxford and was a professional copywriter for over a decade. She is currently at work on her next novel of historical suspense, A Treacherous Likeness, which Delacorte will publish in 2013.

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Read an Excerpt

one

—-

The Young Man

The young man at the desk puts down his pen and sits back in his chair. The fog has been thickening all afternoon, and whatever sun might once have shone is now sinking fast. The window before him is as blank as if it has been papered over. For all he can see outside, the room might give on the flat expanses of the Essex marshes, or command the ancient forests of the Kentish heights. Or it might—­as indeed it is—­be on the first floor of a London lodging-­house, in a narrow street not far from the British Museum. That fact is significant in itself, as we shall see, and it is not necessary to be a detective (as this young man is) to make a number of other useful deductions about the character of the person who inhabits this space. He is a single man, this Charles Maddox, since the bed is narrow, the room small, and neither is very clean. He is careless of his appearance, to judge by the waistcoat hanging on the wardrobe door and the tangle of shirts spilling from the chest, but there are other things he does care about, for a large black cat has appropriated the best and warmest chair, which looks to have been placed next to the fire for precisely that purpose. He is a sentimental young man, then, but more than anything else he is a curious one. For by his possessions shall ye know him, and this room is a mirror of Charles Maddox’s mind. He has little interest in languages, so has never come across the word wunderkammer, but he has created one nevertheless—­a small but perfect ‘cabinet of wonders’. Every level surface carries its prize—­mantelpiece, bookcase, desk, even the wash-­stand. An ostrich egg, and a piece of pale grey stone, slightly granular to the touch, imprinted with the whorl of a perfect ammonite; the blank face of an African mask, bearded with woven fibre, and next to it something black and shrivelled and eyeless that looks disconcertingly like a human head; a wooden box of old coins, and a blue jar filled with shells and pieces of coral; a case of stuffed birds feathered in primary colours that cannot be native to these drab shores; and a scimitar blade with a worn and battered handle that clearly once boasted jewels. There are maps, and prints, and charts of the voyages of the great explorers. And one whole wall is lined with bookshelves, many not quite straight, so that the volumes lean against the slope like dinghies in a wind. We are beginning to form a picture of this young man, but before you smile indulgently at the hopeless clutter, and dismiss him as a mere dilettante, remember that this is the age of the gifted amateur. Remember too, that in 1850 it is still possible—­just—­for an intelligent man to span the sciences and still attain a respectable proficiency in them all. If, of course, he has money enough, and time. If, in short, he is a gentleman. It is the right question to ask about Charles Maddox, but it does not come with an easy answer.

Nor, it appears, does the task he is presently embarked upon. There is nothing scientific about this, it seems. He stirs, then sighs. London is full of noises, but today even the barrel-­organ on the corner of the street is stifled and indistinct, as if being played under­water. It’s hardly the afternoon for such an unpromising task, but it can be postponed no longer. He picks up his pen with renewed determination, and begins again. So engrossed is he—­so intent on finding words that will keep hope in check but keep it, nonetheless, alive—­that he does not hear the knock at the door the first time it comes. Nor the second. It is only when a handful of grit patters against the glass that Charles pushes back his chair and goes to the window. He can barely make out the features of the man standing on the steps, but he does not need to know the name, to know the uniform. He pulls up the sash.

“What is it?” he calls, frowning. What business has Bow Street here?

The man steps back and looks up, and Charles finds he recognises him after all.

“Batten—­is that you? What do you want?”

“Message for you, Mr Maddox. From Inspector Field.”

“Wait there—­I’m coming down.”

The message, when Charles gets it, is no more than two scrawled lines, but such brevity was only to be expected from such a man, and in such circumstances.

“The Inspector thought you’d like to see for y’self, sir,” says Batten, stamping his feet against the cold, his breath coming in gusts and merging into the fog. “Before we do the necessary. Seeing as you’re taking such an interest in the Chadwick case.”

“Tell Inspector Field that I am indebted to him. I will be there directly.”

“You know where it is—­Tom-­All-­Alone’s? I’d take you m’self, only I’m on my way home and it’s the opposite way.”

“Don’t worry—­I’ll find it.”

Charles gives the man a shilling for his trouble, and returns to his room for his coat and muffler. The former is over the back of the chair, the latter—­it turns out—­under the cat. There is the customary tussle, which ends in its customary way, and when Charles leaves the house ten minutes later the muffler remains behind. There is probably nothing for it but to buy another one; when he can afford it. He turns his collar up against the chill, and disappears from sight into the coaly fog.

There’s no lamp at the corner of the street, just the little charcoal-­furnace of the chestnut-­seller. It throws a red glow up at her face, and onto the drawn features of four dirty little children clustered around her skirts. Not for the first time, the woman has a swollen black bruise around one eye. As he steps off the kerb, Charles only just avoids being trampled under an omnibus heaving with people that veers huge out of the dense brown haze into the path of an unlit brewer’s dray. He springs back in time, but not fast enough to avoid a spatter of wet dung from hip to knee. It’s not an auspicious start, and he hurls a few well-­honed insults at both ’bus driver and crossing-­sweeper before dodging through the traffic to the other side and heading south down an almost deserted Tottenham Court Road. No street-­sellers tonight, and the only shop still open is Hine the butcher, who runs no risk of thieving raids in the lurid glare of his dozen jets of gas. A couple of old tramps are warming their faces against the glass, but paying customers are sparse. The afternoon seems suspended between day and dark, and the circles of milky light cast by the gas-­lamps dispel the gloom no more than a few feet around. A gaggle of raggedly link-­boys follow him hopefully for a while, tugging at his coat-­tails and offering him their torches, “Light you home for sixpence!” “Darn’t listen to ’im—­I’ll do it for a joey—­whatcha say, mister? Can’t say fairer than that.” Charles eventually shakes them off—­literally, in one case—­and smiles to himself when one lad calls after him asking if he can see in the dark, “ ’cause yer going to need’ta.” Even in daylight, the city changes character every dozen yards. A fog like this plays tricks with the senses, blanking out familiar landmarks and shrinking distances to no farther than the eye can see. Having patrolled these streets for the best part of a year, Charles should know them, if anyone does, but there is something else at work here—­an ability he has to render the map in his head to the ground under his feet, which explains the assurance of his step. A modern neurologist would say he had unusually well-­developed spatial cognition combined with almost photographic memory function. Charles has more than a passing interest in the new advances in daguerreotyping, so he might well understand the meaning of those last words even if not the science behind them, but he would most certainly smile at the pretension. As far as he’s concerned, he’s been doing this since he was a little boy, and thinks of it—­in so far as he thinks of it at all—­as little more than a lucky and very useful knack.

Once past St Giles Circus the line of shops peters out and the road narrows. A few minutes later Charles stops under a street-­lamp before turning, rather less confidently this time, down a dingy side lane. It’s unlit, with alleys branching off left and right. He stands for a moment, allowing his eyes to adjust to the dark, and wonders if he should have hired one of those boys after all. He rates his chances well enough against a lone footpad, but for a year or more this part of London has been notorious for a spate of garrotting attacks, and the men who use these miserable backwaters for cover ply that trade in threes and fours. No-­one but a fool or a foreigner would venture willingly into such a maze of dilapidated houses, seeming blind and yet teeming behind, as Charles well knows, with a desperate human detritus that has no choice but to call the vile haunts of Tom-­All-­Alone’s home. Even the fog seems more malevolent here. It funnels down from the main thoroughfare, and eddies ghostily into archways and casements. Charles takes a deep breath and starts off again, his ears suddenly attentive to the whispers and creakings of the crumbling tenements on either side. Half a dozen times in as many months the ground round here has been shaken by a sudden crash as one of these structures has subsided, throwing a tower of dust into the dirty London sky. The last was barely three weeks before, and when the scavengers moved in to rake the wreckage they found more than two dozen bodies—­men, women, and children—­huddled together for warmth half naked, in a room less than fifteen feet square.

The farther Charles goes, the thicker the fog becomes, and once or twice he thinks he sees darker shapes and shadows loom and then retreat before him—­if they are men they do not show themselves, leaving his agitated imagination oppressed by phantasms. But only too horribly real is the sound of the fever cart, creaking its own slow way through the narrow alleys somewhere nearby, the cries of warning smothered in the dead air. He’s more relieved than he’ll admit to turn a bend in the alley and see the entrance to a low covered way, with a solitary lamp looming at the farther end. He ducks his head and starts along the tunnel, though not without at least one anxious glance behind: If ever there was a place precisely adapted for thieves to waylay the unwary, then this is surely it. The walls are running with moisture that drips into pools on the floor and slides in runnels down the back of his neck, and he wishes, not for the first time, that he’d been firmer with the cat. He quickens his step, but the farther he goes, the more he becomes aware of an all-­too-­familiar sickly reek. When he comes out into the open it’s to an iron railing and a choked and ruined burial-­ground, crowded in on all sides by half-­derelict buildings, the gravestones all but level with the first-­floor windows, where here and there a dim light still seeps through the cracked and patched-­up panes. The gate is standing open, and there are bull-­dog lanterns on the far left side, close by what looks like the twisted stump of a stunted yew tree.

The police.

He can’t make out how many there are, but they’re expecting him, and one calls across in a voice he recognises. It’s Sam Wheeler—­Cockney chipper and as quick as ginger. They worked together for six months out of St Giles station-­house. It was Wheeler who’d taught Charles the ways of the London underworld, and Wheeler who’d been at his side the night Field first took him to Rats’ Castle and the rookeries.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 15 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2012

    Very well written!

    Although the Dickensonian language and subtle plot twists are sometimes challenging to follow, it is worth the effort.Besure to read the author's research information at the end.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 24, 2012

    Ms Shepherd has done her research well and she has created a Dic

    Ms Shepherd has done her research well and she has created a Dickens Victorian England. The storyline is well developed as are the characters The different narratives keep you guessing up until the end. I love Victorian London stories and this one is going on my favorites list. I would recommend this to all readers.Well done!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 5, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    So far so good!

    I loved Lynn Shepard's Murder at Mansfield Park so I did not hesitate to purchase this book when it popped up on recommended for me. Like Mansfield Park where I reread Pride and Prejudice before reading Mansfield Park I am reading Bleak House first. Unfortunately I am having difficulties staying into Bleak House. Dickens is a wordy man! His books require stubborn determination! I have yet to be disappointed if I persevere for a third in I am always rewarded. I have read the prologue for the Solitary House. Once again I am drawn entertainingly in to the historical time period, this time of Mr. Dickens'. As an avid reader and true history buff I am already hooked by the prologue alone! Solitary House will be my reward for completing Bleak House. I will complete Bleak House out of respect for Mr. Dickens and a need to have some feel of the past I am about to enter. Historical fiction gives me the the wonders of the authors imagination and a glimpse into a far past I find engrossing. If you are a historical fiction fan read Shepard's books. You will enjoy!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 18, 2013

    I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads first read

    I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads first reads.

    This book is well-paced, and very well written, with careful attention to historical detail.
    As to historical detail, I particularly noticed the way the author always wrote "bus" with an apostrophe in front: 'bus, because at that time, it was an abbreviation for omnibus. Today, bus is just a word we use, for us it's not short for anything. But at that time in London, the omnibus was a relatively new addition to the streets.

    The writing style is very unique. I was hooked at the prologue where the author spoke directly to the reader as if the two were walking down the streets of London side by side. I was even more excited to see that this particular writing style was not just for introduction. Throughout the story the writer takes the reader on side trips without the characters to give the reader inside information or to make the reader aware of things not yet revealed to the characters. It's a very refreshing style.

    I am eagerly anticipating the sequel that releases later this year!! 

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 24, 2014

    If Lynn Shepherd cares about writing, she should stop doing it.

    If Lynn Shepherd cares about writing, she should stop doing it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2013

    Not my type of "read" But then, I don't like the style.

    I don't like a story told by two different people where a connection is not made until almost the end of the story. Maybe its me.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2014

    Interesting retro e.g. try at dickens world

    But second narrative pads story with false info and sexual grafuc details regarding children are not acceptible and the iincreasing use in myateries only please those with similar perversions. Grafic details of this era have turned me off of this time period. This was the second book this month about terriers and rats and child pros. Yes the writing is good but not what it describes and deadens so you need more "stimulation" Enough already. Mom

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2013

    Get it now

    Great Book

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  • Posted June 2, 2012

    Charles Maddox is a likeable young man, and we are sympathetic t

    Charles Maddox is a likeable young man, and we are sympathetic to him from the start. We are exposed to the many facets and contrasts of Dickensian London and the equalizing measure of murder. This book is well written, with great characters and a page turner of a whodunit. I. like another reviewer would like to see young Charles Maddox appear in another interesting mystery.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2014

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