The Solitary House: A Novel

The Solitary House: A Novel

by Lynn Shepherd


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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)

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345532435
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/30/2013
Series: Charles Maddox Detective , #2
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 492,152
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 7.84(h) x 0.79(d)

About 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.

Read an Excerpt



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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The Solitary House: A Novel 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 36 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
druidgirl More than 1 year ago
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!
eternalised More than 1 year ago
A mash-up between “Bleak House” and “The Woman in White” that never matches the greatness of either of those novels, but does offer an intriguing book. Charles Maddox is an intriguing protagonist, and the mystery at hand is complex and interesting. The book is a bit pretentious though, with stiff Victorian dialogue that could’ve flowed better. I did enjoy it, and I wouldn’t mind reading more books by this author. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
RRatliff More than 1 year ago
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!! 
wazdat More than 1 year ago
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!
norway_girl More than 1 year ago
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.
samfsmith on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an interesting book, very creative and intriguing. The author has borrowed characters and plot lines from two of my favorite Victorian novels: ¿Bleak House¿ by Charles Dickens and ¿The Woman in White¿ by Wilkie Collins. The villain is the lawyer Tulkinghorn from Bleak House, and Collins¿ plot has been adapted and expanded and merged with Dickens¿ characters.The hero is a new character, a private detective. Inspector Bucket from Bleak House makes an appearance too. The plot is well thought out and more modern than anything that Dickens or Collins could have used.So if you haven¿t read ¿Bleak House¿ or ¿The Woman in White¿, why not? I think you will enjoy this novel more if you read them first. ¿Bleak House¿ is arguably Dickens best novel, and ¿The Woman in White¿ is a classic early mystery novel.¿The Solitary House¿ is a great read, very entertaining and creative.
abealy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
London 1850. Dirty, cold and dangerous. Bathed in a yellow miasma of fog and coal smoke ¿ not yet known by the appellation ¿smog¿ ¿ the perfect setting for a Victorian detective story.Charles Maddox, relieved from duty as a police officer on unjust grounds has become a private detective, following in the illustrious footsteps of his great uncle Maddox, a ¿thief taker¿ of unparalleled genius and a stand-in for Sherlock Holmes in the brilliance of his deductive reasoning. Great uncle Maddox has fallen to the cruel traps of age but he still retains signs of his brilliant intellectual abilities and ably assists Charles in his investigation. His grandnephew has been hired by the powerful lawyer Tulkinghorn, a character lifted from Dickens¿ Bleak House, to find the author of threatening letters received by a mysterious client. There are deep and horrific secrets that begin to cloud the waters soon after Charles begins his investigation. Death and perversion in the miasma that is 19th century London.Occasional chapters, set in a different font, introduce us to Hester, an orphaned waif brought to live in luxury with her new guardian Jarvis. There she participates in the daily rituals of a house that, we will eventually discover, has many secrets. Lynn Shepherd has created a world of gloom, poverty and overreaching evil that succeeds wonderfully in atmosphere and style. She subtly overlays her tale with characters and scenes from Dickens¿ Bleak House and Wilkie Collins¿ The Woman in White among other period works and it¿s a very satisfying devise. Charles Maddox is a full and sympathetic character and it would be wonderful to see him again in a further adventure.
loumarday on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was intrigued by the tie ins to Dickens' work, I don't think it was necessary for the reader to have read those books to enjoy this one. While this was an enjoyable read for me I found the graphic descriptions of the murders to be overkill, so to speak, particularly after learning who the killer really is. It would have made more sense had we been given more background info on the killer. I was completely hooked with the twists and turns that the plot kept taking especially how Hester fit in to the picture...all throughout the book I just couldn't figure her presence out. What I also liked, that some of the other reviewers did not, was the narrator. We're reading a dark and sinister book but the narrator made it feel a wee bit lighter by his (?) style of describing the action to us. All in all, a good solid, entertaining novel.
BookAngel_a on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Solitary House is very definitely a homage to Charles Dickens' "Bleak House". In fact, in the beginning of this novel, the reader will feel like they are re-reading Bleak House. I would recommend that Bleak House is fresh in your mind before reading this novel, although it's not necessary.Charles Maddox was thrown out of the police force for insubordination and is now a struggling private detective. He has help from his great uncle who, although battling senility, was once a brilliant detective as well. Maddox is hired to find the writer of some threatening letters, but his investigation leads him to more horrible crimes of rape and murder, and he personally comes under attack for his involvement.So much of this book is like Bleak House that I was almost expecting it to turn out like the ending of Dickens' novel, but it does not. There is a twist!Just like Bleak House, there are many plot threads that come together in the end. However, again just like Bleak House, I felt like I might have missed one or two details. I was reading quickly because of the suspense and I'm not quite sure all the loose ends were tied up.If this becomes a series, I would definitely read more about detective Charles Maddox. Recommended for those who enjoy Charles Dickens, and mysteries as well.
Cariola on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Well, let me start with three confessions: 1) I don't much care for murder mysteries; 2) I've never read The Woman in White but have seen the dramatized version on DVD; and 3) I don't much care for the work of Charles Dickens. In fact, I'll make another more shocking confession: although I am a literature professor, I've never finished a Dickens novel. I've started several but could never get beyond the first 30-40 pages. So perhaps I am not the ideal reader for The Solitary House. If I had been able to make all the character and plot connections to Bleak House and The Woman in White--which no doubt were very clever, or at least intended to be so--perhaps I would have appreciated this novel more. I'll leave that conclusion to others more qualified than myself. Confessions aside, let me say that this isn't an awful book, just one that I didn't particularly connect with. If you're a mystery buff and a fan of Collins and Dickens, you might love it; check some of the other reviews below. On the positive side, I rather liked the main character, Charles Maddox, a young detective removed from the police force and now working as a private investigator. He's quiet, kind, intelligent, and a bit melancholic, and he owns (or, rather, is owned by) a cat named Thunder. When he learns that his elderly uncle has begun to suffer bouts of dementia, Charles doesn't hesitate to abandon his bachelor rooms, moving in with old Maddox, a retired crack detective, and promising never to send him to an asylum. You have to admire a man like that. Uncle Maddox is another engaging character; he helps Charles to solve cases in the flashes of brilliance that come between his incoherent rages.But a lot about the novel frankly confused me, perhaps due to my lack of familiarity with Collins, Dickens, and the mystery genre. The story seemed to have a few too many subplots and aidetracks. "Hester's Narrative," told in three chapters that seemed to be randomly placed, made little sense to me until the overly-speedy wrap-up at the end, and even then, it left me with quite a few questions. (I guess that's OK, since we are left to assume that Hester is insane.) While we finally find out who the murderer is, we're never given a clear motive for his crimes, nor are we told anything about the history that might imply what led him to murder. Also, I found the narrative voice rather grating, mannered but with a mocking air at times that seemed out of character and thus distracted from the story. All these added up to the fact that by the time I was 3/4 into the book, I REALLY wanted to be done with it.
mldg on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this book in one day. I loved it. There is surprising violence, good character development, lots of twists and turns, lots of sadness. Can't wait to read the next installment.Now I have to go finish Bleak House and read the Woman in White because many have made comparisons to those two books.
Ronrose1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this suspenseful tale of Victorian London. The author mimics the style of Dickens and other authors of this era. The descriptions of Victorian England are quite compelling. The protagonist is Charles Maddox, once a well respected police officer, who saw his career quickly come to an end when he dared to voice his disagreement with the conclusions of a superior in the force. He is now on his own trying to make a living freelancing in the apprehension of criminals. When Charles is hired by one of London's wealthiest lawyers to track down the writer of some threatening letters, his fortunes seem to have taken a turn for the better. Of course we know that's not going to happen, don't we. It is just the beginning of a wild ride through the dark, foggy, and dangerous streets of London. Book provided for review by Amazon Vine.
JBD1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Lynn Shepherd's The Solitary House is what the author calls a "literary murder" (and it certainly does contain its fair share of murders). Drawing on classics like Bleak House and The Woman in White and interweaving her own story with some of the same characters and plot-lines that Dickens and Collins deployed, Shepherd has created a complex story with some fascinating characters that makes for quite a good read.While Charles Maddox, former policeman turned private detective, is the main protagonist, his great-uncle (of the same name), a retired (and sometimes not-entirely-all-there) thief-taker with meticulous records of his career, is the most compelling character, and I hope a prequel is in the works that will tell more of his story.Filled with fun allusions and references that will either keep you turning back to your copies of Dickens and Collins, or perhaps lead you to reach for them for the first time, The Solitary House is a suspenseful tribute to the novels which inspired it.
Larxol on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Tom-all-alone's, inexplicably renamed The Solitary House in North America, is another pastiche from Lynn Shepherd, following her Murder at Mansfield Park two years ago. This time she's taken on Dickens and Willkie, borrowing characters and settings from Bleak House and A Woman in White. The author has a fine ear for Victorian English, so much so that it's jarring every now and then when the omniscient narrator pulls the curtain aside just a bit to remind us we're viewing the story from a 21st-Century vantage point. Despite the borrowings and references to other works, the plot of the novel is original and stands quite well on its own, although driven by audacious coincidences that are almost, well, Dickensian. It's a mystery, with many murders, and the protagonist, investigator Charles Maddox, is a very likeable young man , optimistic and fairly cheerful amidst the squalor where his work takes him. The author reports we'll meet him again in her next novel. I'm looking forward to that, and would also look forward to Ms. Shepherd cutting her ties to books already written and taking flight on her own.
majkia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
London in 1850 was no place for the weak. Wretched, filthy, full to bursting with desperate people. The wealthy, of course, took advantage and had it all.Charles Maddox, a disgraced police officer, is now struggling to make a living as a 'private detective' although he doesn't use the term. He still has his contacts on Bow Street which helps, as does the fact he was raised by his grandfather who was a famous 'Thief-taker' of Bow Street. Using his grandfather's methods he's found a case that takes him into the mire and mirk of rotting bodies buried in a horrid cemetery where the police have dug up rotting babies. Charles, whose own baby sister was stolen from his mother's arms, and has never gotten over it, sees his sister in those babies and needs to learn more.Shortly after his visit to the cemetery he's contacted by a famous lawyer and hired for another case. Charles, desperate for money accepts the case despite the fact he has reservations due to the lawyer's reputation as a ruthless man. Thus, Charles is drawn deeper and deeper into trying to find out who is sending threatening notes to an extremely wealthy banker. When he does discover the man's identity, then things get worse. And grimmer and Charles, although he is warned off several times, has to find out the secrets the banker and the lawyer are trying desperately to keep.Shepherd evokes a wretched and atmospheric London, one that totally suits the story. Her characters are beautifully drawn and the mystery is complex enough that if you do guess some of it, you need to, like Charles, discover all of it. Highly recommended!
fyrefly98 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Summary: Charles Maddox is a private detective, struggling to earn a living after being kicked off the London police force. He is driven equally by the memory of his sister's kidnapping many years ago, and the example set by his great-uncle, a once-famous detective whose wits have begun to fail him. When Charles receives a letter from a Mr. Tulkinghorn, a secretive attorney whose clients number some of the most powerful people in the kingdom, he is eager to take the case. At first, it seems fairly straightforward: determine the source of some threatening letters received by one of Tulkinghorn's clients. But the further Charles gets into his investigations, the more complicated things become. Complicated... and dangerous, for those involved in the plot he uncovers would do anything to preserve their secrets.Review: The Solitary House does everything that I want my historical mysteries to do. It brings the historical period (in this case, 1850s London) to life, complete with dense fogs, muddy streets, stinking tanneries, and seedy taverns. Its central mystery is well-woven, dropping enough hints and clues to allow me to piece together some things on my own, but still throwing in some good twists and turns and surprises along the way. Its main character is developed outside of the detective work, and there are interesting secondary characters as well - in this case, primarily Charles's great-uncle Maddox. Watching a brilliant man succumb to the effects of dementia, and the effects this has on Charles, is one of the "quieter" pieces of the book - not murder and arson and pickpockets and prostitutes - but is excellently done, and extremely affecting. And finally, it's well-written; in this case in a prose style that emulates Victorian conventions, which occasionally made things a little dense - it's not a fast read - but was well worth it for the historical tone it added to the story. The only exception was the omniscient narrator, which is a tricky device to get right, and is used relatively sparingly by Shepherd, but which I still found distracting whenever it cropped up.The Solitary House is based on/inspired by Charles Dickens's Bleak House. I can't give any more comparison than that, since (to my shame!) the only Dickens I've read is A Christmas Carol. But as evidenced by the fact that I loved The Solitary House, a familiarity with Dickens is not really required. That's not to say it wouldn't have helped, however. About a third of the book was given over to a narrative from an orphaned girl named Hester, and I found these really confusing at first, since they don't tie into the main narrative until right at the end. When everything is revealed, it made sense, but for most of the book they felt out of place, especially since they interrupted the main story at what felt like strange times. Presumably, a working knowledge of Bleak House would have given me a better idea of how everything fit together. Similarly, some of the characters in this book are drawn directly from Dickens and other Victorian authors, so I definitely felt that there were some minor moments whose significance went straight over my head. I'd be interested to read Bleak House and then revisit The Solitary House, to see how my opinions may change. But overall, despite not being in the Dickens in-crowd, I enjoyed the heck out of this book, and am looking forward to reading more of Shepherd's work. 4.5 out of 5 stars.Recommendation: Definitely recommended for those who liked Michael Cox's The Meaning of Night, Victorian novels, or historical (and/or literary-based) mysteries.
SamSattler on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This second of Lynn Shepherd¿s ¿literary murders,¿ The Solitary House, makes good use of several characters readers will remember from Dickens¿s Bleak House. Playing prominent roles here are the despicable lawyer, Edward Tulkinghorn, the reliable Inspector Bucket, and a character closely resembling Esther (called Hester this time around). That the novel is written in the style of classic English novels of the period is probably what first will attract most readers to it, but The Solitary House is also a very fine mystery ¿ one with an ending reminiscent of Dennis Lehane¿s Sutter Island.The novel¿s central character, Charles Maddox, was a Metropolitan police officer before he was dismissed for insubordination. Now he is determined to earn his living as a self-employed detective - or as he sometimes calls himself and his famous detective uncle, a ¿thief taker.¿ Maddox, a man of great curiosity and varied interests, is a natural at the business of detecting, but he is still struggling to build a reputation of his own. For that reason, he is both surprised and flattered when Mr. Tulkinghorn, one of the most powerful lawyers in London approaches him about a job.Someone is sending threatening letters to a wealthy London banker, and Tulkinghorn wants Maddox to identify and stop the culprit before any harm comes to his client. Tulkinghorn¿s request seems to be so straightforward that Maddox eagerly accepts the charge despite not having completed his current case, the search for a young woman being sought by the father she has never met. Maddox decides he will work the two cases simultaneously, and he does ¿ until things take a nasty turn that begins him wondering if the two cases are somehow connected. When some of his sources begin to suffer horrible deaths at the hands of a psychotic killer, Maddox realizes that his life - and those of everyone closest to him - are in jeopardy. Readers of Dickens will feel right at home in the London so meticulously recreated here by Shepherd. But the real core of her story is the relationship between young Charles Maddox and his great uncle, the man to whom Charles turns for advice and insight as his investigation progresses. The old man, one of the pioneering detectives of his day, seems to be suffering from some type of senile dementia and is confined to his home. It is painful (particularly for those readers who have watched their own loved ones go through a similar process, I suspect) to watch the old man struggle with the awareness of what is happening to him. He is still capable of moments of brilliant insight, but is just as likely to lapse into periods of rage and paranoia. Through it all, and despite his own battles, Charles is by his side as they solve the mystery of The Solitary House together. This one is fun.Rated at: 5.0
PensiveCat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've read Bleak House and The Woman in White, so the connections were easy enough to figure out. I don't say you have to read these two novels to enjoy the story, in fact in a way it could be more suspenseful this way, as you'd have no idea what's going to happen next. Still, it's suspenseful enough, because Lynn Shepherd took these famous stories and added a dark twist, and possible real criminals. Also new is Charles Maddox and his brilliant but declining great-uncle, who add an outsider's view (though Charles is certainly not untouched in his involvement.)
hollysing on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What chilling mysteries lurk in the streets of Victorian England? The Solitary House is a historical suspense novel based on detective procedure and written to celebrate Charles Dickens¿ 200th birthday. In 1850, Charles Maddox, dismissed from Scotland Yard for insubordination, is hired by eminent lawyer Tulkinghorn to investigate malevolent letters sent to Lady Dedlock.Sloshing through dung, sidestepping rats, stench and squalor in cobblestone streets center us firmly in 19th century London. We move through the red light district to the dealings of the wealthy, shady gentry. Although the setting is Victorian, the author throws in some twenty-first-century observations and anachronisms. Vivid atmospheric writing, gritty scenes and convoluted plot lines coalesce, requiring the utmost concentration.Much is borrowed from Dickens. Edward Tulkinghorn, a character from Bleak House, figures prominently. The book¿s title, The Solitary House, was the first Dickens considered for his own crime classic. Shepherd uses chapter titles from Dickens works. Parallels are extensive, topped off with a first-person narrative by self-effacing Hester, the orphan.Ms. Shepherd¿s attempt to mimic Dickens¿ style is commendable as is her homage to the literary giant. Granted there is original material in The Solitary House but this reader couldn¿t help wondering why the author didn¿t write her own story in her own style.
Beamis12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Anyone who has read Bleak House will recognize some of the places and characters from that novel. From this Shepherd atmospherically recreates or rather reinvents these situations and characters into a atmospheric and stunning mystery all her own. Homage is also paid to The Lady in White. Dickens is even mentioned more than once. Loved the characters of Charles Maddox, both the uncle and the present day sleuth. The uncle had been a legendary thief taker and solved many cases thought unsolvable, but is now dealing with Alzheimers. The nephew, a detective unfairly dismissed from the police dept. has a few very different cases he is trying to solve. Many twist and turns, some really evil characters and a stunning surprise conclusion keeps the reader entertained. The only thing I struggled with was the unnamed narrator, who was consistently imparting wisdom or asides, while this could serve to enlighten the reader for me it only served to break up the narrative, which I thought was strong enough on its own. Looking forward to seeing what this author plans for her next endeavor. ARC from NetGalley.
cbl_tn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ex-policeman Charles Maddox went into business as a private investigator after his dismissal from the police force. While working on a case involving the disappearance from a workhouse of a woman and her newborn sixteen years earlier, he takes on a second case at the request of a prominent lawyer. The case is one of apparent blackmail, and Maddox's client wants to identify the author of some threatening letters. Maddox gets more than he bargained for when he learns that his client has been holding something back. Maddox's investigations take him all over Victorian London. Meanwhile, Maddox's domestic situation becomes complicated when he moves in with his uncle and mentor, who is suffering from what appears to be Alzheimer's.This is just the sort of historical mystery I ought to like with its Victorian London setting, but it didn't work for me. I couldn't read for more than a short stretch of time without switching to something different. Maybe it was the author's unusual choice of third person present for the narrative. The resolution to Maddox's cases relied too heavily on coincidence. I can tolerate coincidence in Dickens, but not in his emulators (with occasional exceptions). I seem to be the exception rather than the rule in my lack of enthusiasm for the book, so if you like atmospheric historical mysteries you might want to give this one a try.This review is based on an advanced electronic reading copy provided by the publisher through NetGalley.
randalrh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Here's the question: Do you go read Bleak House and/or The Woman in White before reading this book, or if you've already read either, will that add to or diminish your enjoyment of The Solitary House? This question isn't a spoiler, because I hadn't read either and still got many of the allusions. It depends on whether you want to be in on the joke or figure it out despite not being in on it. This is the main thing that will make this book much better or much worse for you--the sense of place is pretty good, as are the characters and almost all of the story, but you may find the precious references of the omniscient narrator either delightful or maddening. Or, like me, you may just find them to be a bit too much.
michigantrumpet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A suspenseful whodunit set in mid-1800's London. The muck and smog, the smells and unsanitary homes, the danger of the slums and rapacious lawyers and grasping bankers form the backdrop. If this atmospheric tale seems Dickensian in setting, character development and plotting, you would be quite right. Ms. Shepherd means this as an homage to Dickens' 'Bleak House' and Collins' 'Woman in White'. It being quite some time (read decades) since I've read either, I was concerned that much would pass me by. Perhaps I missed an allusion or three, but overall, the passage of time proved no handicap. An enjoyable quick read and a rollicking good tale. Looking forward to her next book.
nolenreads More than 1 year ago
I have a difficult time getting into a novel where the author is using a style that might reflect writings of the time period the story is set in. I really became impatient reading from the little girl/young lady's viewpoint. She is insipid. I found Charles's point of view much more interesting as much more happens during his times on the page. Really his character drives the story forward, thank goodness. The story was well-laced together finally with just the right amount of intrigue.