Friday, September 6, 2013

REVIEW: A Fatal Likeness by Lynn Sheperd

Synopsis: In the dying days of 1850 the young detective Charles Maddox takes on a new case. His client? The only surviving son of the long-dead poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and his wife Mary, author of Frankenstein.  Charles soon finds himself being drawn into the bitter battle being waged over the poet’s literary legacy, but then he makes a chance discovery that raises new doubts about the death of Shelley’s first wife, Harriet, and he starts to question whether she did indeed kill herself, or whether what really happened was far more sinister than suicide.

As he’s drawn deeper into the tangled web of the past, Charles discovers darker and more disturbing secrets, until he comes face to face with the terrible possibility that his own great-uncle is implicated in a conspiracy to conceal the truth that stretches back more than thirty years.  The story of the Shelleys is one of love and death, of loss and betrayal. In this follow-up to the acclaimed Tom-All-Alone’s, Lynn Shepherd offers her own fictional version of that story, which suggests new and shocking answers to mysteries that still persist to this day, and have never yet been fully explained.

My Thoughts: My knowledge about Percy Bysshe Shelley before picking up A Fatal Likeness-the second Charles Maddox book-was that he was a very famous poet and part of  a group of poets known as the romantics during the late 18th century.  That is about it.  Since I am not much of a poetry person I have never read his work.  It seems though, that Shelley's actual life contained more drama and scandal than any modern day soap opera could come up with.  It is this turbulent world that Charles Maddox is plunged into when he is hired by Shelley's only surviving son to retrieve important documents concerning the troubled poet.  It is in the course of his investigations that Charles discovers evidence that Shelley's first wife may not have committed suicide.  As Charles delves deeper into Percy Shelley's life he uncovers more shocking tidbits including the revelation that his own uncle may have been involved in some unfortunate dealing with this family.

I really struggled with the first half of this book.  I'm not sure if it was my lack of familiarity with the subject matter or the possibly the writing style itself that took me some time to get used to.  One big issue is that part of the story takes place in 1850 with Charles and Percy's son and part of it flashes back to events in 1814.  Characters in both time periods are referred to as Mrs. Shelley and the father/son share the same name.  This became an issue because I did not read the book in one sitting so when I would put the book down and come back to it I would get very confused on which time period and which set of characters I was dealing with when I would come back to the book.

The good thing about this book was you can tell a great deal of research went into it and the way the author describes the setting and creates the atmosphere of the novel is fantastic.  While I may have struggled in the first half of the book as the story slowly played out and I became more invested in Shelley and more importantly the women he surrounded himself with-first wife Harriet, second wife Mary and her half sister Claire-the going got easier and I found myself eager to continue the story.  There are several plot twists and surprises in the latter half of the novel. 

For those who do know a thing or two about the Shelley's (unlike me) the portrayal of Mary Shelley in this novel might be unnerving as it paints her in a seriously unflattering light.  I guess it was easier for me to overlook this as I know next to nothing about the people this book is about.  I do know that from his twisted love life to his radical politics and his occasional visits to crazy town in this novel, Percy Bysshe Shelley makes for one interesting character.  I think this novel would be better suited to those who do know something about the romantics and the Shelleys in particular but for those who are not it could be a fair read if you stick with it.  Personally when I read a book I don't like to have to maintain the level of focus it took to keep everything straight and it seriously impeded my enjoyment of the novel until the darker elements began to be revealed and it started to hold my attention better.

This book was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley.  These are my honest thoughts on the book.


  1. I recently read Passion by Jude Morgan, a historical novel that deal with the romantic poets, the Shelleys in particular. It was an incredible book. So now I'm intrigued by this one. It sounds a lot more "fictional," and I'm not usually drawn to detective style novels, but the subject has me curious.

  2. My knowledge of Shelley is as yours - I knew about his romantic history (read it somewhere). This would be interesting for me. Thank you for the post.