The Solitary House

Written by Lynn Shepherd
Review by Diane Scott Lewis

Disgraced former policeman Charles Maddox works as a private investigator in 1850s London. He takes a surprising assignment from a shadowy attorney to discover who is sending threatening letters to a powerful financier. His great-uncle, a brilliant “thief taker” now suffering from dementia, helps him in his lucid moments. But as Charles delves deeper, he believes there is far more to this case than the attorney admits. Charles’ further investigation drops him into the debaucheries and criminals of London and put his life in extreme danger. Several people who help him along the way end up hideously murdered. What depraved secrets do the financier and his “gentlemen” cohorts hide behind their facades of respectability?

This ambitious novel is intellectually enthralling, with dark twists at every turn, as murky as the creeping London fogs. Charles is a young man with a troubled past of his own, but his tenacious nature won’t allow him to give up.

The “modern” omniscient narrator who talks directly to you can be distracting, but mimics the Victorian style of writing. Characters from famous novels of this era — most notably, Charles Dickens’ Bleak House — are integrated into the story. This is a haunting novel that will have you guessing until the last pages, and it is not at all for the faint of heart. I pondered each subtle hint that led to the dreadful conclusion long after I finished the book.