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A Treacherous Likeness by Lynn Shepherd

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. 

Last year I read Tom-All-Alone’s and I’ll happily admit that I had no idea what to expect. I was just getting back into reading historical fiction, after a long absence, and though the idea of a historical crime novel appealed, I was unsure if I was going to enjoy it or not. The novel was truly exceptional and I’ve been waiting for the follow up since.

This latest literary mystery picks up events a couple of months after it’s predecessor. Charles Maddox is beginning to find his feet as an investigator. The fact that he does occasionally make mistakes, and is just as capable of the same human failings that we all suffer from, makes it easy to empathize with him. You can appreciate that he’s not perfect but is still driven to try and uncover the truth.

Charles has always admired his great-uncle, who he has tried to emulate in every respect, but during this particular case he is forced to reevaluate his opinions. There is always a danger that when you put someone of a pedestal they can only ever be destined to fall and Charles learns this the hard way.

I don’t really know a great deal about the romantic poets and their works but this didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the story in any way. Shelly seems to have been idolized by some while abhorred by others. The poet, and his contemporaries, had a knack for causing scandal and were renowned for everything from their politics to their views on free love. There is enough genuine mystery surrounding Shelly and his relationships with the women in his life to provide a fertile backdrop for Shepherd’s narrative.

I think it’s probably fair to say that A Treacherous Likeness does have a more intricate plot than Tom-All-Alones, in fact, this may be the only thing that has the potential to put a reader off. The story spans a couple of different time periods and features some quite complicated connections, so your full attention is most definitely required. That said, if you’re anything like me and enjoy giving your entire focus to a novel, you will be rewarded with an entirely engrossing experience.

Shepherd displays a flair for plotting and is obviously very passionate about her chosen subject matter, the evidence appears on every page. Once again, this author has managed to create a believable tale that shines a light on the darker corners of Victorian society. It is just so incredibly easy to get caught up in her writing. When I wrote my review of Tom-All-Alones last year, I said that I’d love to see her work brought to life on screen. So far, no one has taken note but I’m sure it is only a matter of time before they do.

A Treacherous Likeness is published by Corsair and available now.


A Treacherous Likeness

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