Tom-All-Alone’s caused a lot of (positive) fuss when it came out earlier this year, but I don’t really have a good reason for not having read it before now, except that its association with Charles Dickens seemed to be a big selling point and I have honestly never been a fan of Dickens. I know, I know. But then, a couple of weeks ago, I was sent a proof of Lynn Shepherd’s new novel, A Treacheous Likeness. This Victorian mystery focusing on Percy Shelley, as well as Mary Shelley and Lord Byron, interested me greatly as I studied the Romantic poets at university and always enjoyed reading about them. Though it is not a sequel to Tom-All-Alone’s, A Treacherous Likeness also stars detective Charles Maddox, and is set directly after the earlier book. Not wanting to miss anything and seizing the opportunity, I read Tom-All-Alone’s straight away.
Being a big fan of Sarah Waters and having really enjoyed The Pleasures of Men by Kate Williams, I knew I would enjoy the Victorian setting and the murder-mystery plot. It was really only the Dickens link that had previously been putting me off, which is ridiculous. Shepherd states in her acknowledgements that Bleak House was a huge inspiration (along with Collins’ The Woman in White), and ‘Tom-All-Alone’s’ was an early title for Bleak House, and there are many characters, settings, scenes, events and even chapter titles in Shepherd’s novel that Dickens wrote first. So if you like Dickens, great. If you don’t, off-putting. But luckily, once I actually started the book, I forgot about Dickens. This book is amazing in its own right and Shepherd knows what she’s doing. Every now and then the sheer amount of open-ended information that Charles is gathering in his cases meant that I got a little lost, and the Chadwick case gets a little too sidelined for my taste, but it doesn’t matter really. Likewise Hester’s narrative could have been beefed up a bit more, but once you’re into the last third it all comes together and you’re just glad you still reading.
Tom-All-Alone’s is not for the faint-hearted, and I am still reeling from what I just read, but I loved it. Lynn Shepherd is a clever girl and I cannot wait to get started on A Treacherous Likeness. I might do that now actually…
Tom-All-Alone’s was published in hardback in February 2012, and in paperback in September 2012, by Corsair, an imprint of Constable and Robinson. My copy was kindly provided by the publisher for review.