My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Charles Maddox is barely scraping by on his income as a private detective, having been dismissed from the Metropolitan police department for questioning his boss’s judgment. As the book opens, he following a lead in the sixteen year old cold case of the disappearance of an infant. Author Shepherd is frank about her emulation of the style of Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, and like her illustrious predecessors, is adept at evoking the aura of smoky, Victorian London, particularly its seamy underside. As the plot develops, Maddox is hired by a preeminent barrister, whose clients are being threatened in anonymous messages. He very much wants to succeed at this assignment, but his hopes of gaining the assistance of his mentor, a brilliant detective himself, are dashed by the onset of senile dementia. But Charles is a quick study, with little regard for his own safety, and very shortly realizes that a dastardly conspiracy underlies both of his current cases.
The Solitary House is permeated by a sense of menace and filled with colorful, well drawn characters. As the novel builds to its conclusion, the impression that all is not what it seems looms increasingly more ominous. A somewhat shocking revelation in the last few pages makes the ending anything but predictable. I haven’t read Ms. Shepherd’s first novel (Murder at Mansfield Park), but now that I’ve finished her accomplished second one, will definitely do so.