Monday, 5 August 2013

Tom-All-Alone's by Lynn Shepherd

Tom-All-Alone’s is the name of a slum area that features in the Dickens novel, Bleak House. It is also a key setting in the first of Lynn Shepherd’s gripping mystery series featuring former copper, Charles Maddox. His patch is Dickensian London in time and place, and also with the inclusion of some of Dicken’s characters, such as the Machiavellian Edward Tulkinghorn, solicitor to the rich and powerful.

It is Tulkinghorn who employs Maddox to track down the identity of a blackmailer – but when the perpetrator dies in a house fire, Charles suspects foul play. What are those dark and dirty secrets that Tulkinghorn is at such pains to suppress? This is the mystery that drives Charles to clash with the powerful lawyer and to repeatedly endanger his own life.

There is a huge cast of characters here, among them are more echoes of Bleak House: a young lady named Hester and her benefactor, Mr Jarvis, plus the tenacious policeman, Inspector Bucket. There are kindly prostitutes, and the quirky characters of Charles’s own household, including his mentally fragile Uncle Maddox, his old retainer, Stornaway and Molly, the mute African maid.

Charles himself is a terrific character - energetic and smart, yet hounded by demons of his own, including a lurking guilt over the disappearance of his little sister when he was a boy. This back-story will no doubt crop up in further books in the series, and I for one hope there will be plenty more as this is one of the smartest and most engaging period mysteries I have read in a long time.

Reviewed by JAM

Catalogue Link: Tom-All-Alone's

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