- Unbeliebable: White House turns Bieber petition response into immigration screed
- Obama signs law denying Iran ambassador’s visa, but says law is ‘advisory’
- Mich. judge to laughing convicted killer: ‘I hope you die in prison’
- Man charged in Kansas City-area highway shootings
- Keystone XL pipeline still on hold after State Dept. decision
- Fla. man charged with killing 16-month-old son to play Xbox undisturbed
- Drones from the deep: Pentagon develops ocean-floor attack robots
- Michigan mayor slaps back atheists’ try to erect ‘reason station’ at city hall
- PHILLIPS: Where is the conservative establishment?
- 7.5-magnitude earthquake shakes southern Mexico
‘Solitary House’ a mystery with a dose of Dickens
"The Solitary House" (Delacorte Press), by Lynn Shepherd: The star of Lynn Shepherd's intriguing mystery novel is mid-century Victorian London, depicted in all its filthy glory and without a hint of the jolly charm that found its way into the tales of Charles Dickens.
But then charm is hardly the point in "The Solitary House." Shepherd artfully mixes a tale of murder with elements common to Dickens' writing, such as the prostitutes, rat catchers and other unfortunates who populate London's foul, gas-lighted streets and the powerful, selfish gentry who control the lives of so many others.
Shepherd has played off the work of a literary giant before. In her debut novel, "Murder at Mansfield Park," she placed Jane Austen characters at the center of a murder mystery. In the case of "The Solitary House," Dickens' own "Bleak House" is the touchstone, its scheming lawyer Tulkinghorn and police inspector Bucket both pivotal characters in the brutal and bloody story Shepherd unfolds.
Charles Maddox is a "thief taker," the colorful term for a private detective in 1850. An ex-policeman who had been pushed out of the force, he is following in the footsteps of his great-uncle _ and caring for the former detective, now beset with what today would be called dementia. Maddox is hired by the devious Tulkinghorn to determine who has been sending blackmail threats to a leading banker. Unknown to Maddox _ but known to readers thanks to a Dickensian narrator who sees all _ Tulkinghorn has other plans that could threaten the young detective if he uncovers the whole truth.
Maddox is trying to resolve another case, too, still searching for a young woman born in a workhouse. It's a nearly impossible task in a day of incredible poverty and flimsy social contracts. Meanwhile, a young ward narrates her own story, its connection to the mystery unclear at first but tantalizing in its obvious purpose _ to collide somewhere with the overall narrative.
Those unfamiliar with Dickens' "Bleak House" need not worry that they won't enjoy Shepherd's "The Solitary House." At its core, Shepherd's book is a historical mystery with a flavor and character all its own. Her suspenseful story and winning prose ably serve her literary conceit. Fans of Dickens, meanwhile, will find it a treat.
Douglass K. Daniel is the author of "Tough as Nails: The Life and Films of Richard Brooks" (University of Wisconsin Press).
TWT Video Picks
Women losing coverage under Obamacare, too
- Scalia to students on high taxes: At a certain point, 'perhaps you should revolt'
- Former Ranger breaks silence on Pat Tillman death: I may have killed him
- Special Forces' suicide rates hit record levels casualties of 'hard combat'
- Feds approve powdered alcohol; 'Palcohol' available later this year
- Army goes to war with National Guard, seizes Apache attack helicopters
- EDITORIAL: Mark Warner running scared?
- EDITORIAL: Republicans finally fight back in phony 'war on women'
- EDITORIAL: More Lerner smoking-gun emails at IRS
- U.S. Navy to turn seawater into jet fuel
- Critics rail against liberal bias for commencement speakers
Top 10 handguns in the U.S.