Late last year I was entranced by Lynn Shepherd’s literary novel Tom All Alone’s in which private detective Charles Maddox took on a case involving among others, characters from Dickens’ Bleak House. I was delighted to discover that her new book A Treacherous Likeness is published this month and I made sure that I got my hands on a copy as early as possible.
A Treacherous Likeness is a remarkable book having at it’s heart what Lynn Shepherd rightly describes as, “one of the most celebrated episodes in English literary history”; the time when Percy and Mary Shelley stayed in Geneva with Mary’s step-sister Claire, who was having an affair with Lord Byron.
In some ways, A Treacherous Likeness is far more than a novel and in a video accompanying this book (see below), Lynn Shepherd explains that her purpose in writing A Treacherous Likeness is to explore the gaps and silences in the lives of the Shelleys which history has passed over. She does this by setting her investigator from Tom All Alone’s, Charles Maddox onto the case at the request of Shelley’s family, allowing her to explore in fiction her theories about the scandals and intrigues surrounding Byron and Shelley.
When the book opens we find that Charles Maddox has now moved in with his dying great-uncle and mentor (referred to in the book as “Maddox”). The old man seems to be sunk into the depths of a final sleep, tended by his assistant Abel and house-keeper Molly. Charles reveres the old man and learned the skills of investigation at his side but now he has to root through his great-uncle’s case notes to discover the truth about his new assignment.