UK cover
This book is going to be released in less than a month, February 2nd,  as a homage to Charles Dickens in the year of his  birthday bicentenary (February  1812 – February  2012) (Official Site -Dickens 2012)

Tom-All-Alone’s was one of the poorest, dirtiest, most squalid slums in 19th century London. Tom- All- Alone’s  (The Solitary House in the US and Canada edition, May 1st 2012) is the title Lynn Shepherd has chosen for her second novel.
 It is  a gripping noir murder mystery set in foggy Victorian London, in which the characters of Dickens’s Bleak House and Lynn Shepherd’s own creatures come to interact . This is Lynn Shepherd’s second tribute to a great British  writer. Her succesful  debut book was set , in fact, in one of Jane Austen’s Regency novels and   titled, Murder at Mansfield Park (published in the UK, the US and in Spain). (My review on My Jane Austen Book Club)

Usa cover
The two novels are linked  through   the figure of detective Charles Maddox, the brilliant thief taker who solved the complex murder case at Mansfield and is now old and suffering from a terrible desease which makes him  perfectly lucid and coherent one moment but furious and lunatic the next. But when old Maddox  is lucid, he is still the fine, skillful detective he was. The detective investigating on the complex case at the heart  of Tom- All- Alone’s  is now his nephew, young Charles Maddox, who was in the Metropolitan Police once but has been unjustly dismissed and wrongly suspected.

Young Charles is hired by Mr Tulkinghorn (the formidabile lawyer of Bleak House) to investigate on a series of threatening anonymous letters sent to an eminent banker, Sir Julius Cremorne, and other illustrious characters in London.  Looking for the man who may have sent those letters and also for the reason of the blackmailing, Charles Maddox walks through the most dangerous areas of London,  full of drinking dens, thieves, violent people and prostitutes: the London Dickens knew so well, but could only hint at. Bloody sicars  and their murders, sexual depravity and vulgar language were to be hidden behind the hypocritical facade of moral respectability. It was the time of hypocrisy and dualism also Stevenson protrayed in his Jekyll and Hyde or Wilde in Dorian’s Gray only apparent perfect beauty.

Lynn Shepherd, free of course from any puritan Victorian influence,  makes all the terrifying, macabre, sinister details of the reality of the slums come into the foreground without mitigation. The result is an intriguing investigation, a well built mystery  story filled with   Dickensean moments , but with a stronger, more  realistic portrayal of the social and moral degradation of the time. It’s a world where girls of twelve worked as prostitutes, unwanted babies are carelessly disposed of and those who pose a threat to great men are eliminated without remorse.

BBC Bleak House - 2005
Different narrating voices, psychological in-depth and good characterization, well – crafted alternation of light moments to more tragic grim ones, forceful description of people and places make this second novel a confirmation of  Lynn Shepherd’s talent.  

The story of young Charles Maddox investigating and the story of Bleak House with  its characters run parallel at first,  then they intersect with one another and culminate into an unexpected, surprising finale. If you’ve read Bleak House you’ll recognize inspector Bucket, Lady Deadlock, Mr Tulkinghorn, Mr Jarvis, Clara and Hester, among others. But if you haven’t, no problem. You’ll be able to fully enjoy Lynn Shepherd’s new murder mystery, as an awesome detective story set in Victorian London with all its old-fashioned, dark fascination.

Watch this video featuring author Lynn Shepherd. It's an interesting presentation of Tom All Alone's in the places the story takes place, with some excerpts from the novel read by Colin Day.


JaneGS said...

Can't wait to read this--sounds terrific on so many levels. Great review, btw.

Maria Grazia said...

Grazie, @JaneGS! I mean, thank you! I'm sure you'll love Lynn's new book. Happy 2012!

Sam (Tiny Library) said...

A great review Maria, but I'm not sure if this book is for me. I haven't read much noir.

Maria Grazia said...

I'm not a lover of detective stories or thrillers either, but when something is so well-written and connected with literature and history like Lynn Shepherd's books, I can't resist!
Thanks for your comment,Sam.

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