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The Solitary House (Charles Maddox) Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 1, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Dickens fans will rejoice upon finding characters from Bleak House performing similar roles in Shepherd’s second historical mystery (following Murder at Mansfield Park, 2010) featuring Charles Maddox, thief-taker (a Victorian detective).This reworking of the masterful classic features crooked lawyer Mr. Tulkinghorn, Inspector Bucket, Lady Dedlock, and the not-quite-right Hester (Esther in Bleak House), who begins her narrative with Dickens’ words, “I have a great deal of difficulty in beginning to write . . . for I know I am not clever.” A labyrinthine plot narrated in three voices reveals the underlying motivations and connections of these characters in a story of pervasive deviance so sinister that even those hardened to London’s nineteenth-century underworld will reel in shock. Maddox is manipulated by Tulkinghorn on behalf of the attorney’s wealthy clients to ferret out those who might expose a nasty secret; as the investigation progresses, Maddox finds himself and everyone he knows in the path of a psychotic killer. Shepherd leaves the reader spellbound by masterfully building suspense, creating a pervasively clammy and befogged atmosphere, and offering a cast of unforgettably peculiar characters, making the most of authentic, period language and a soupçon of subtle humor. Those who haven’t read Bleak House will be ready to have a go, while those looking for contemporary read-alikes should be encouraged to try Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith (2002)or Sara Stockbridge’s Grace Hammer (2009). --Jen Baker


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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Product Details

  • Series: Charles Maddox (Book 2)
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press; 1st Edition, 1st Printing edition (May 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345532422
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345532428
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (188 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #980,759 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

I write what I like to call 'literary murder'. In other words crime novels with a literary twist. I started with Murder at Mansfield Park, which was 'Jane Austen meets Agatha Christie', and I've now moved on to Charles Dickens with Tom-All-Alone's (UK)/The Solitary House (North America). It's inspired by Bleak House as my birthday present on his bicentenary.

I can't remember who it was who said you should write the sort of books you enjoy reading, but they were right - both my books combine my two great literary loves: classic English novels, and good detective fiction. I studied English at university (and have a doctorate in it too).

My other loves include cats (I have two), the English countryside (which I'm lucky enough to live in), Renaissance art (which I'm sadly not lucky enough to own), Palladian architecture, and America's finest police shows (Law & Order, Without a Trace, need I go on). Pet hates include wasps, monkeys, The Simpsons (just can't deal with the yellow faces), and the lazy use of the word "solutions" (I write for businesses as my day job, so that's the corporate copywriter creeping in).

I'm writing my third book now, which will be out in 2013 from Corsair (UK) and Random House (North America).

My Twitter ID is @Lynn_Shepherd, and my website is

Customer Reviews

2.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

74 of 83 people found the following review helpful By A. Budner on May 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
How can I rate a book I disdain as contrived, poorly narrated and trying too hard to be clever? It would be a clear case for one star, except that in this instance it was almost compulsively readable. Every time I threw it across the room in annoyance I had to go pick it up and keep on reading. That ability to make a woman as lazy as I am get up from a position of comfort earns Shepherd's second novel a second star (and a half if I could give half stars).

A literary mash-up of "Bleak House" and "The Woman in White", Lynn Shepherd's well-plotted mystery inevitably suffers by comparison to its progenitors. While she does a good job of evoking the energy and squalor of London in 1850, she strains to fit her plot into the interstices between Dickens' and Collins' far better novels. Virtually every character of note from both books gets a least a cameo in "The Solitary House," making the novel feel a bit like a hollywood spectacle from the '50s or '60s -- trotting out every available star for a characteristic walk on bit. Yes, is is fun to realize who everyone is, but aside from the looming figure of Mr. Tulkinghorn and the more ambiguous character of Inspector Bucket, most of the familiar figures are curiosities, not characters. There is also a parallel, oblique second narrative written by one Hester, clearly modeled on Esther Summerson from Bleak House, which is the subtlest and eeriest writing in the book and another good reason to award the extra star.

Literary rebirths aside, the focal point of the story is Charles Maddox, a disgraced ex-policeman struggling to make ends meet as a consulting detective when he gets what appears to be a simple and lucrative commission from the powerful and shady lawyer, Tulkinghorn.
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112 of 129 people found the following review helpful By T. Harper on December 23, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
First, this is something that I should have loved. I love Victorian mysteries and Dickens. In fact, I read Bleak House every year at Christmastime. I was hoping that reading this would be fun and interesting and lead straight into my annual Bleak House read. Dickens could weave a multifaceted tale with ease. Shepherd doesn't have that same gift. It's just a big mess with characters that we don't want to know or care about. Shepherd tried too hard to emulate Dickens and Collins with her own writing style. She could have done much better by keeping it simple and not going for a word count. This book was just long and boring.
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42 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Avid reader VINE VOICE on April 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In Lynn Shepherd's latest, "The Solitary House", the author tries hard to emulate the writing style of Charles Dickens. In some ways she succeeds, and in others she fails. The overly wordy descriptive passages that I have difficulty plowing through in Dickens' work are present in "The Solitary House", as is the gloomy and gritty feel of Victorian London. However, unlike my feelings for many Dickens' characters, I just did not really care about Charles Maddox, his uncle, or anyone else in the book.

This was a difficult book for me to finish-it took almost a month to force myself to finally get through the last several chapters. It is not the author's writing that is at fault, or not completely, but rather the fact that I did not care about anyone in the story. The characters did not connect with me, and in fact I found many of them irritating, and I didn't feel the urge to find out who was doing what with whom, or why there were dead babies in the same hole on the periphery of the cemetery.

The first person narrative (well, sort of, since there are asides that pulled me out of the story) combined with the narrative of Hester, and those asides, made it hard for me to remain in the story. Other readers may not have the same issue with this (these?) narrative constructions that I did. I cannot truly recommend this book for anyone looking for a straightforward mystery, nor for someone looking for a Dickens-like read. This is, of course, my opinion only, and others likely have very different viewpoints.
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73 of 92 people found the following review helpful By ChocolateChipCookie330 on December 13, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Nothing in the descriptions I read of this book led me to expect the plot line to include pedophilia and infanticide. I read the first few chapters and got suspicious and skipped to the end of the book. I wish I'd never started it.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful By K. Sullivan VINE VOICE on April 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Former constable Charles Maddox is following in his renowned uncle's footsteps by becoming a "thief-taker" - more of a private investigator, really. Although his law enforcement career ended in ignominy, his sharp scientific mind suggests a bright future. While working on a hopeless missing person case, he's summoned to meet one of the most prestigious and powerful attorneys in London, Edward Tulkinghorn. A wealthy, powerful banker has been receiving threatening correspondence. Maddox is asked to find out who wrote the letters and is paid handsomely for his services. With little to go on, and quite intimidated by his new client, Maddox feels acute pressure to succeed. With the help of his great-uncle and name-sake, he may uncover a lot more than he bargained for, including clues to his other case. That's if he can survive the investigation.

The novel quite intentionally owes a great deal to Dickens' "Bleak House" (and not this work or this author alone). Unfortunately, in sharing characters, structure, and setting, it begs comparison to Dickens' writing as well which is an unenviable position to be in. Shepherd's prose doesn't, perhaps can't, compare favorably. What was natural for Dickens is ostentatious and self-indulgent here. It's a harshly distorted echo of the authentic voice of Dickens at best.

The writing suffers on several other counts. The dialogue is cringe-worthy at times. This may be owing to stilted, awkward exposition in the guise of dialogue or to affected accents and colloquial speech. The all-knowing conversational narrator, also borrowed from Dickens, was intrusive and distracting. The voice was distinctly feminine to a fault. The overly sentimental description of the protagonist resembled the gushing of a crushing school girl.
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