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Lynn Shepherd – The Pierced Heart

July 23, 2015

LibraryThing Early Reviewers23. The Pierced Heart by Lynn Shepherd (2014)
Charles Maddox Mysteries, Book 4

Read my review of book:
2. The Solitary House
3. A Fatal Likeness

Length: 256 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Started: 15 May 2015
Finished: 18 May 2015

Where did it come from? LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program.
Why do I have it? I’ve liked Lynn Shepherd’s previous books.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 20 November 2014.

Charles won’t believe that
the bled-dry girls were killed by
vampires… but then who?

Summary: Detective Charles Maddox is hired by the University of Oxford to investigate the background of a possible donor to determine the suitability of the bequest. Maddox must travel to Austria to meet the Baron Von Reisenberg, and when he arrives, he cannot help but notice many odd goings on – dark legends surround the Baron, the common folk all seem strangely reticent to talk about him, and the gloomy environs of the castle give rise to a host of disturbing suspicions. While Charles does his best to avoid superstitious and supernatural thoughts, he soon finds himself threatened by what he’s exposed about the Baron’s true nature, and he returns to England nearly broken in mind and body, only to find that there’s been a number of grisly murders that seem as though they may be connected to the horror he thought he’d left behind on the continent.

Review: Lynn Shepherd’s books largely take the same form – she takes a classic piece of British literature and re-imagines it as a case in the files of Charles Maddox, her detective protagonist. This is clearly her Dracula book, which is one that perhaps best lends itself to a murder mystery, but also the one that may require the most re-imagining in order to have it fit into her “real” historical London. The Pierced Heart was a good mystery, with some things obvious to the reader (who has more information than Charles or the police, in the form of a second narrative from a young woman who has been captured and imprisoned), but some things still surprising as they’re revealed. I did feel like it needed to be a little bit longer; there are some aspects, particularly regarding the Baron’s plans, that needed some more explanation and development in the beginning, since by the time we reached the end there were some story threads that I felt didn’t entirely connect. However, Shepherd’s writing was as lovely as ever, effectively evoking the Gothic tone of her inspirations (which has been the case in her previous novels as well) while also maintaining an effectively creepy atmosphere – so effective, in fact, that there were times I didn’t want to read this after dark. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: This could be read independently of Shepherd’s other novels; there are some connections regarding Maddox’s personal life, but they’re either explained in this novel, or are of small enough importance to the primary story so as not to render the book confusing for not having read its predecessors. I think fans of Dracula, Jack the Ripper stories, and historical mysteries should all find this novel worth a read.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: A Garden Carried in the Pocket, Killin’ Time Reading, and more at the Book Blogs Search Engine.
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First Line: The train left Prague at 8:35 PM on 15 March, arriving at Vienna before noon.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 7-8: “Charles leaps from the carriage and walks out into the wet, much to the amused disdain of several small boys playing with a little grey dog on the farther side of the yard, where wine barrels are stacked under the open barn and mounds of seasoned timber await the cooper’s croze.” – a tool for cutting the recess at the end of a barrel or cask to receive the head.
  • p. 29: ““Her name is Minette. One of the great chef d’oeuvres of the master ceroplast Philippe Curtius.” – masterpiece; a maker of anatomical models in wax.
  • p. 100: “He has written one part of a most ambitious work on the subject of the sack of Rome by the Vandals which he promised to show me, though I noticed his sisters seemed not to take his literary ambitions very seriously, and ragged him mercilessly upon his lofty choice of subject, saying that he had written several hundred lines and yet still not concluded even his prolegomena.” – A preliminary discussion, especially a formal essay introducing a work of considerable length or complexity.
  • p. 152: “I have conquered my punctilio and my humiliation and torn the bed-linen, winding it into heavy bandages, but still the blood pulses from me as if my last strength were ebbing away, and when I woke last night gasping from the nightmare the bed was drenched with it, and I heard a child’s voice crying in the silence.” – strict attention to minute points of etiquette.

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