A Treacherous Likeness by Lynn Shepherd

A Treacherous Likeness

Our hero Charles Maddox is back, and once again embroiled in some very unsavoury matters. This time he is dragged into the orbit of Mary Shelley. It is not a comfortable place to be. Mary’s only surviving son, called Percy after his father, calls upon Maddox’s professional services. Maddox pays a visit to the Shelley residence; he meets a man ruled by his wife, a shrine to the Dear Departed Percy Bysshe Shelley, and a case requiring him to act as spy. Someone has some papers concerning the late Shelley that his family would like in their possession. Maddox reluctantly takes the case, but there is so much he doesn’t know.

Lynn Shepherd has drawn upon the many mysteries surrounding Shelley’s life to create another wonderfully atmospheric and chilling detective novel. The starting point in 1850 are the sensitive papers, which could undo all the hard work the current Lady Shelley has done in rehabilitating Shelley from pariah to icon. Mary’s daughter-in-law, her son’s wife, is the driving force behind this, and it is she that instigates the contact with Maddox.

Poor Maddox is still in a bad way from his previous case in Tom-All-Alone’s. It has left both physical and mental scars. He has settled in a little more to his new home, but his great-uncle’s decline continues to take its toll. His hesitation in taking on the Shelley case is quickly revealed to be well-judged. Maddox was not chosen at random; his great-uncle has had dealings with the Shelleys before. Dealings he has long regretted. Maddox’s suspicions are aroused by Lady Shelley’s seemingly casual mention of any papers that he may come across amongst his great-uncle’s things. It doesn’t take him long to track the relevant documents, but what he finds only deepens the mystery.

Everything about the case is more complicated than it first appears. Maddox is caught between two of the women that dominated Shelley’s life – the beguiling Claire Clairmont and the ailing Mary. Which one can be trusted, which one is telling the truth? Fortunately, Maddox has lost none of his tenacity. He is still incapable of letting an injustice go and he’ll keep digging until all the secrets are uncovered. The case has a life of its own, absorbing Maddox to a dangerous degree.

The story opens with the Narrator – such a distinctive voice that I was immediately taken back to Tom-All-Alone’s. I love how the Narrator leads us by the hand from place to place, telling us the story and showing us the sights. Once again I was put right into the story by the first sentence:

We began before thick in autumn fog; we open now in the fury of a west and winter wind.

Lynn creates the atmosphere so brilliantly. And even more brilliant is the way the revelations keep tumbling. The secrets are packed like Russian dolls one inside the other; every time I thought I knew it all, there was yet more waiting for me. Towards the end my hands were gripped tightly around the book as I devoured page after page. Did I enjoy it? Oh yes, indeed I did. It is my firm intention to read every novel Lynn ever writes, her brand of historical crime is very much to my taste.

My review of Tom-All-Alone’s can be found here, and here is a talk Lynn gave about the Shelleys. Although A Treacherous Likeness follows on from Tom-All-Alone’s it’s not a problem to read them in the opposite order if that’s what takes your fancy.

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