The Solitary House by Lynn Shepherd
Charles Maddox’s client turned out his daughter years ago for having “fallen,” in the way that Victorian women were said to do. She disappeared into one of London’s many workhouses and by the time her father wanted her back, there was no trace of either her or the child she bore for an unknown father. Lynn Shepherd’s The Solitary House leads readers on a tour of the sights, sounds, and smells of old London’s worst and best neighborhoods—places that often lay cheek by jowl to one another, as Charles struggles to find the missing girl.
But that is not Charles’ only case nor his only problem. His elderly uncle, a genius and former thieftaker who trained him in his profession, has come upon difficult times and urgently needs his nephew’s help. Then there is the small problem proposed by Edward Tulkington, one of the richest and most powerful men in London. He simply needs Charles to track down the writer of a series of threatening letters. It is a job that pays well and could open many more doors of opportunity for the new detective. How unfortunate that the job is far more sinister than it first appears.
Most Victorian writers had a way of covering over the seamiest parts of society. Exposing the daily miseries and more outrageous though commonplace crimes of 1850 London was something tackled by very few. Charles Dickens’ Bleak House and Wilkie Collins’ Woman in White were important, sensational, and popular works that dared do it. The Solitary House, or Tom-All-Alone’s as it’s known in Britain, came about from the author’s desire to “create a ‘space between’ these two great novels, where [she] could locate a new and independent story of my own, and explore some of the same nineteenth-century themes of secrecy, madness, power, and abuse.” Lynn Shepherd’s author-narrator brings a modern perspective to some of what is often viscerally described.
The Solitary House is a solid choice for those who enjoy historical mysteries in the vein of Anne Perry.