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New Release Review Tuesday: A Fatal Likeness

By Crossstitchyourheart @TMNienaber

th (2)A Fatal Likeness by Lynn Shepherd

Scheduled for re-release August 20th

The research far outweighs the writing in the second installment to the Maddox mystery series.  What could have given an interesting take on the life and mystery of Percy Shelly and his second wife Mary turns into a mangled mess of plot twists, dead end side stories, and a narrator that only complicates things further.

What Shepherd has done well in this book is her research and a fan of the Romantics may be interested in picking up this book just to see the world of the Shellys Shephed has created here.  Yes, this book is a work of fiction and no reader should expect Shepherd to tell the story without any embellishments, that would leave major plot holes and keep this book from being an interesting novel.  Is she hard on the Shellys and their associates?  Yes.  But there really wouldn’t be a story if the characters were handled with kid gloves and Shepherd is very forthcoming in her author’s notes as to what is fact and what is purely speculative fiction.

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Where the book takes a turn for the worse is in the number of plot twists Shepherd tries to throw the reader.  After each chapter Maddox has a revelation saying something along the lines of “it all makes sense and has fallen into place now” only to have nothing make sense any longer in the next chapter.  What is supposed to build suspense actually just makes Maddox look like a poor detective, unable to see what’s going on in front of him.  These plot twists are also further complicated by two unnecessary side stories.  The first being the relationship between Maddox and his maid, which is barely even hinted at for the first three quarters of the book only to become and bizarre (and somewhat major to the life of Maddox) plot twist in the end.  Of course, as soon as it’s stated the story is suddenly forgotten and the reader is left with loose ends to a story that wasn’t even part of the novel before.  The second side story is the Turnbull case, which seemed to be setting the scene for a third novel only to be nothing more than a way for Maddox to uncover yet another layer in the Shelly fiasco.

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This book suffers from a case of too much plot.  There is a lot going on and it’s not laid out in a way that make it possible for the reader to follow coherently.  The narrator, which could have been a great device for clarity, only further complicates things.  The narrator goes from being omniscient observer to breaking the fourth wall in bizarre ways.  Normally I’m a fan of meta-commentary narrators, but Shepherd can’t seem to decide what kind of narrator is being used.  The narration changes from being present during the case, at the time Maddox lived, to randomly speaking from the future, as if the reader were incapable of knowing technology in the 19th century is different from that in 2013 and needs to be told, or picking up on references to medical diseases not yet named in Maddox’s day.

Is the book totally unreadable? No, and if you were a fan of the first in the series you might enjoy it more than I did.  Do I recommend it as one of the best Victorian Era detective stories out there? Not even close.

I received a free, review copy of the edition of this book scheduled to be released August 20th, from the publisher.


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