book review: a fatal likeness (a treacherous likeness)

A Fatal Likeness: A NovelA Fatal Likeness: A Novel by Lynn Shepherd

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book, which is based on the relationship between Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, and Claire Clairmont. It’s a work of fiction, but at the end in the author’s notes, she explains what parts were based on actual facts and real letters in existence.

Not having much familiarity with any of the history relating to these characters, I went into this book looking for a mystery, and hoping for some good writing. I found both, and I have to say that the writing in this book was extremely well-done. This was a story that required a lot of thought, and a lot of careful plotting. It switches between past and present as Charles Maddox– the detective– reads letters, diary entries, and speaks with other characters about their past. What we presume is the mystery at the start of the book unfolds into enigmas of all sorts, and every time Charles thinks he’s discovered something, it opens up a bevy of new mysteries.

The pacing of the book was quite slow, with a lot of descriptive language and passages that recount past events. It’s not a page-turner in the sense that the plot is action-packed, but it did grip me and I would never have been able to leave off in the middle, once having begun.

The characters themselves are all extremely well-written and have a lot of depth. How much of the characters is based on fact I don’t really know, but most of them turn out to be quite evil, in their own ways (and not the ones you initially suspect, or not only them).

I really liked the way things unfolded at the very end, and how the mystery took a few surprising turns even as Charles thought he had everything figured out at last.

I’d recommend this book to fans of historical fiction, perhaps fans of the Shelleys (although if you dislike the insinuation that either of them may have been horrible people, you may want to pass), and fans of literary mysteries with atmosphere and chills.

Thank you to the publishers, who via NetGalley provided me with this e-book for review

View all my reviews

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