The novel’s central character, Charles Maddox, was a Metropolitan police officer before he was dismissed for insubordination. Now he is determined to earn his living as a self-employed detective - or as he sometimes calls himself and his famous detective uncle, a “thief taker.” Maddox, a man of great curiosity and varied interests, is a natural at the business of detecting, but he is still struggling to build a reputation of his own. For that reason, he is both surprised and flattered when Mr. Tulkinghorn, one of the most powerful lawyers in London approaches him about a job.
Readers of Dickens will feel right at home in the London so meticulously recreated here by Shepherd. But the real core of her story is the relationship between young Charles Maddox and his great uncle, the man to whom Charles turns for advice and insight as his investigation progresses. The old man, one of the pioneering detectives of his day, seems to be suffering from some type of senile dementia and is confined to his home. It is painful (particularly for those readers who have watched their own loved ones go through a similar process, I suspect) to watch the old man struggle with the awareness of what is happening to him. He is still capable of moments of brilliant insight, but is just as likely to lapse into periods of rage and paranoia. Through it all, and despite his own battles, Charles is by his side as they solve the mystery of The Solitary House together. This one is fun.