Monday, April 30, 2012

Pierce’s Picks: “The Solitary House”

A weekly alert for followers of crime, mystery, and thriller fiction.

The Solitary House, by Lynn Shepherd (Delacorte Press):
Carrying on from her initial work of historical suspense, 2010’s Murder at Mansfield Park (yes, that’s a witty reworking of Jane Austen’s 1814 novel), British writer Shepherd this time presents a haunting literary homage to both Charles Dickens’ Bleak House and Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. The year is 1850. The place, London. Charles Maddox, recently expelled from the Metropolitan Police force for insubordination, has taken up a far less steady career as a private inquiry agent, with help from his great-uncle, a renowned “thief-taker” of the same name (who, by the way, was the detective hero of Murder at Mansfield Park). In The Solitary House, the former copper is hired by Edward Tulkinghorn, one of the city’s most intimidating attorneys, who wants him to put a quick end to a stream of menacing missives sent to financier Sir Julius Cremorne. Maddox, however, is also occupied with a second case, involving the grandchild of a man who long ago booted his pregnant daughter from his life. As Maddox struggles with these tasks--assignments made all the more daunting when he encounters difficulty in gaining access to Victorian power brokers, and when his efforts on Tulkinghorn’s behalf appear to leave corpses in their wake--he realizes that he can depend on his great-uncle’s help only so far, for the elder Maddox is slipping into age-associated mental illness. Shepherd’s representation of mid-19th-century London is fascinating and often frightening, and one needn’t be a Dickens scholar to appreciate The Solitary House (UK title: Tom-All-Alone’s).

Two other new mystery titles to keep an eye out for this week: The Lola Quartet, by Emily St. John Mandel (Unbridled Books), about a film-noir-obsessed young journalist who returns to his Florida hometown in search of a 10-year-old who may be his daughter by his high-school girlfriend; and The Stonecutter, by Swedish author Camilla Läckberg (Pegasus), in which Detective Patrik Hedström probes the tragic case of a small girl found in a fisherman’s net, whose death throws a sinister light on an isolated resort town.

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