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The Dark Clue: A Novel Paperback – January 6, 2003


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This debut novel by Wilson, acclaimed nonfiction author of The Earth Shall Weep: A History of Native America, is an evocative and sophisticated literary thriller set in 1850s Victorian England. Taking his cue from an archetypal Victorian suspense novel, Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White, Wilson composes an epistolary fiction in letters and diary entries, reviving Collins's classic characters Walter Hartright and his sister-in-law Marion Halcombe. Here, Hartwright and Halcombe are partners in a search to uncover the truth about elusive Romantic landscape artist J.M.W. Turner. Commissioned by the royal Lady Eastlake to write a definitive biography of the misunderstood artist, the duo meet members of the British elite, eccentric and reserved, all of whom have conflicting memories of the reclusive Turner. The upright Hartright discovers a "dark clue" in Turner's paintings, and he becomes obsessed with unraveling the myth and mystery of a man so many people have misunderstood. Art history lovers will take pleasure in the fascinating details of Turner's squalid upbringing and his early years at the Royal Academy. Wilson's exacting, detailed descriptions of Victorian England from Dickensian slums to the gilded drawing rooms of royalty make for vivid storytelling. The tale's pace is stately, but readers tuned to the frequency of 19th-century novels will appreciate Wilson's measured tone and deft treatment of Turner's murky history and Collins's exquisite legacy.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

This new novel from British author Wilson (The Earth Shall Weep) consists of a series of letters and journal entries purportedly written by Walter Hartright and Marian Halcombe, characters from Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White. At the request of Lady Eastlake, Walter begins researching a biography of J.M.W. Turner to counteract the work of a journalist trying to produce an unflattering portrayal of the artist. At first reluctant, Walter soon becomes obsessed with uncovering the secret of Turner's genius, in part to improve his own artistic work. The more he delves into Turner's life in the mansions of the wealthy and the slums of London, the more Walter loses touch with his own respectable life and engages in actions he deplores. Only Marian's investigations and interventions save him from self-destruction, though they come at considerable risk to herself. But what if both are mere pawns in a plot to discredit Turner? Wilson's extensive research about Collins and Turner may be lost on many U.S. readers, but avid fans of historic suspense will appreciate the political and artistic intrigue. Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State Univ., Mankato
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; Reprint edition (January 6, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802139299
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802139290
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,435,873 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By tregatt on November 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Note: "The Dark Clue" by James Wilson has absolutely nothing to do with Wilkie Collins's "The Woman in White," eventhough Wilson has made Marian Halcombe and Walter Hartright, the two avenging righters of all wrongs, from Collins's novel, the chief protagonists in "The Dark Clue." Having said that, if you enjoyed Collins's novel for its gothicky atmosphere, the absolutely brilliant manner in which both the plot unfolded and the novel was executed, and for the investigative zeal with which both Marian and Walter carried out their quest, then "The Dark Clue" cannot fail to satisfy. For James Wilson has written a truly enthralling novel, that successfully evokes the feel of the rather prissy yet dark passions of the Victorian period.
Marian Halcombe has recognised a kind of malaise in her dear brother-in-law, Walter Hartright, for some time now. Realising that part of the problem is boredom, coupled with a sense of uselessness, Marian is at a loss as to how to help him, when fate puts the solution in her hands. Lady Eastlake, a friend of Marian's, is looking for someone credible and competent to write a biography of one of England's most talented of artists, J. M. W. Turner. Apparently, a gossiping hack journalist has decide to embark on exactly such a task, and Lady Eastlake fears that his take on Turner will be a tittle-tattle backbiting biography, that will tarnish Turner's good name. Lady Eastlake wants to commission a biography that will counter this hack's book. Walter is eager to embark on the project, however, he does make it clear to Lady Eastlake that he intends to tell the 'truth' about Turner, warts and all -- this will be no sugar coated biography!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By G. Styles on January 17, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I was drawn to this novel both by my great enjoyment of Collins's "The Woman in White" and its characters, as well as a long interest in the art of J.M.W. Turner. The novel is atmospheric, suspenseful, and fascinating. If I had stopped reading prior to reaching the resolution that Wilson creates for the mystery of Turner's life that turns into an obsession for Walter Hartright, I'd have been tempted to give this book 4 or even 5 stars. But the events of the final chapters left me feeling betrayed and literally turned my stomach.
Perhaps it is naive of me to think that, when an author employs characters created by another--particularly from an acknowledged classic--he owes them a certain degree of respect. I see little appeal in deliberately degrading them or making them depraved, regardless of how logically the case for this is built up.
For a more pleasant, lighthearted novel reviving classic characters, the reader might try Jasper Fforde's "The Eyre Affair", instead.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on July 16, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I don't like gimmicks in general and I find them a bit of a fraud when used to mislead a potential reader about a book. Wilkie Collins is generally considered the inventor of the mystery novel and whether you agree with that or not, he was one of the exceptional writers of Victorian England. "The Moonstone", and, "The Woman In White", are just two examples of his work that remain in print in the 21st century. Author James Wilson borrows 2 characters from one of Mr. Collins's novels, and, by insinuation at the very least suggests there is more than that of Mr. Collins to be expected. Borrowing these characters was meaningless to the telling of this story, a bit of vacuous name dropping is all that it amounts to.
The tale is the writing of a biography, a book within a book. The subject is the 19th century painter J.M.W. Turner, and the author has used all 7 major biographies of the man to write his novel. I have read none of them, but I cannot imagine any of them being less enjoyable than this book, and I bet they even have pictures! My complaints in general are that the book is too long, the story presumes the reader to be obtuse, the ending is completely unsatisfying, and this book must be amongst the entries for the most obsessive use of commas. The first two sentences have 4 commas, 2 hyphens, and a parenthetical. The cadence of this book is an uncertain staccato.
I have read Mr. Wilson's other book which was non-fiction and extremely well written. I don't know if he has the ability to eventually write a great or even a good novel, but he will never get there by trying to imitate the work of another.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Wayne on November 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
I enjoy novels set in 19th century England and I have read Turners biography so I assumed I would find this an interesting story.While the author is a good writer and his descriptions of Turners paintings are at times breathtaking ,the book was very dark and slow moving.Eventually I lost interest in what the dark clue was and I was unable to make it to the end of the novel.Instead I took out my book of Turners paintings and spent an enjoyable afternoon admiring his work.
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Format: Kindle Edition
It is 1850s Victorian Britain. The great British painter J.M.W. Turner has been dead since 1851, and a rather unscrupulous writer is researching a biography of him. Turner’s friends and supporters are alarmed, so they commission a biography as well. Artist Walter Hartright is convinced by his sister Marian Halcombe to undertake the assignment, and she will assist him in his research.

As Walter and Marian undertake their project, they soon learn that nothing about Turner is what it seems. The artist appears to have been a bundle of contradictions. As the brother and sister are pulled deeper into the story of Turner’s life, they begin to sense dark forces at work. What starts out as a biographical project becomes a descent into darkness – and possible madness.

Published in 2002, “The Dark Clue” is author James Wilson’s recreation of the Victorian suspense novel. In fact, the characters of Walter Hartright and Marian Halcombe are borrowed directly from what may be the classic Victorian suspense novel – “The Woman in White” by Wilkie Collins. Wilson goes beyond a simple recreation of the times of the Victorian 1850s, however. He transports the reader and almost seductively places you there, so that you experience, see, and even smell what is happening in the story, as it envelops and happens around you.

Turner (1775-1851) was an artist who transformed landscape painting. He made his name when he was quite young, exhibiting at the Royal Academy of Art on a regular basis for the rest of his life. But he wasn’t without controversy – one can see the rather large collection of his paintings at the Tate Britain (he bequeathed them to the nation at his death) and see the forerunner of Impressionism and even abstract art.
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