I’m going to start by saying I haven’t read Dickens’ Bleak House (although for those of you interested, it does have it’s own Wikipedia page where the synopsis, plot and characters can be found). For me, Tom-All-Alone’s is a stand-alone read with no comparisons.
The story opens on a graveyard where our detective, Charles Maddox, has been called by the police force in case the recently buried body may help him towards solving his one unsolvable case. The description of Charles meeting them at the unofficial burial site leaves you in no doubt that this is not going to be a light and fluffy read!
We follow Charles on his investigations, through Victorian London, with a third person narrative. The writing style is fitting for the time it is set although there are allusions to modern-day conveniences (ie; a comparison to a light being switched on with references that this is in the future) so we infer that it is a modern day narrator. As the story progresses we find out that Charles has his own personal reasons for taking on his first case.
Charles is laid back and he has no arrogance with the skills that seem to come naturally to him. At times appearing self-assured and obstinate, it was good to also see him floundering out of his depth (the first time that comes to mind is in the Tanneries in Bermondsey).
Folly Ditch at Mill Lane c 1840 -the ditch that surrounded Jacob's Island, Bermondsey
Holding his great uncle in such deep respect, it was heartbreaking to watch dementia taking over his life and Charles’ response. My favourite scene is with the two of them discussing the handwritten scraps of paper. This is very cleverly written and for me highlighted the fact that the author has either researched very well or has some experience of dementia.
Running concurrently with this is Hester who has been orphaned and through a guardian, is a resident at Bleak House. This is written in the first person and weaves through the majority of the story in chapters of its own. Hester’s experiences at Bleak House seem to hold nothing in common with Charles’ investigations, which only led to me wanting to turn those pages to found out where she fitted in.
For me, there was also a personal level of interest invested in reading Tom-All-Alone’s. My paternal ancestors had migrated to London 18 years before 1850. I’ve read through some of Charles Booth’s survey into life and labour in London (1886-1903) but this took me back even further and allowed me to briefly step into what life was like. Lynn Shepherd’s descriptions show how thoroughly she has researched.
A dark and atmospheric read, with characters that are three-dimensional and a strong main plot with sub-plots, Tom-All-Alone’s will hold your attention, submerse you in 1850 London and allow you to make comparisons on how life is today compared to the darkness of this time period. I would recommend readers with an interest in history as well as crime to pick up a copy for yourself.
I would like the author for providing a review copy in exchange for an honest review.