It’s been a fair while since I last read crime novels. In my late teens I was a huge fan but over time my tastes have changed. So, I feel I should preface this review saying that I wasn’t sure where I would stand with such a novel. Thankfully I enjoy historical fiction and Tom-All-Alone’s capitalised on that niche and brought me back to the crime genre.
I was unsure of the novel at first, the main attraction was the idea of its basis on Bleak House by Dickens and its strong foothold in the Victorian period. I wanted something different, and that is certainly what Lynn Shepherd served up.
I have never read Dickens’ classic so entered into this novel in even more trepidation. If there were ‘in-jokes’ I didn’t get them, but I never felt it mattered because Lynn created a wonderfully brooding novel that depicted the darkness of Victorian London sublimely. This is in fact the most powerful part of the novel. London is a gritty, violent and debauched place and you get the impact of that in every sentence. A lot of work has gone in to create a world in which the reader can fully believe.
That work that has been put into the world has also been used as a foundation to the characters, most notably Charles Maddox – the protagonist here. That “work” is passion, that is clear. Lynn is obviously passionate and devoted to her characters and writing, this shows in the narrative and structure of the book. Charles is an involving character – he has aspects to his personality that pull in the reader.
After moving in with his Uncle and namesake the legendary Charles Maddox who is suffering from what we now know is Alzheimers disease, Charles takes on an incredibly suspicious case involving men of power in London. His skills for detective work are still growing and it is perhaps this that endears him to the audience.
The connection lies in how human Charles is. He’s emotional, he is a ladies man and he has a fragility that solidifies him greatly. The same can be said for his uncle who draws emotion from the reader in his helplessness and absence of a once great mind.
It’s worth noting that the novel and Charles’ case is incredibly brutal with some moments that are particularly graphic. This is par for the course in crime, one would believe and also goes hand in hand with the setting and time. Strangely, as much as I enjoyed the novel it was the crime aspect that lacked most for me. I felt it was a little predictable, although Lynn still slipped in a few surprises. Lynn’s talent for prose was enticing and her narrative which switches back and forth between two seemingly separate stories is an intriguing way of communicating the plot.
I thoroughly enjoyed Tom-All-Alone’s, despite not being a fan of the crime genre. What I loved most was the sense of environment and the depth of the ensemble. These things are needed for great historical fiction and fiction in general leaving me a fan of Lynn and interested in her future works. I am eager for more of Charles Maddox and am hoping to read more of the older Maddox in Lynn’s debut, Murder at Mansfield Park.
Published by Corsair. This book was kindly sent by the publisher.