Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Fatal Likeness Falls Flat

A Fatal Likeness
Author Lynn Shepherd
This title will be released on August 20, 2013.
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A mystery that explores the dark lives and unexplained secrets of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and his wife Mary, author of Frankenstein. In the dying days of 1850 the young detective Charles Maddox takes on a new case. His client? The only surviving son of the long-dead poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and his wife Mary, author of Frankenstein. Charles soon finds himself being drawn into the bitter battle being waged over the poet’s literary legacy, but then he makes a chance discovery that raises new doubts about the death of Shelley’s first wife, Harriet, and he starts to question whether she did indeed kill herself, or whether what really happened was far more sinister than suicide. As he’s drawn deeper into the tangled web of the past, Charles discovers darker and more disturbing secrets, until he comes face to face with the terrible possibility that his own great-uncle is implicated in a conspiracy to conceal the truth that stretches back more than thirty years.
Review: Included at the end of A Fatal Likeness is an author's note that goes into detail about the research and idea for the book. I must say, I appreciate the conception, along with the research and development. The perspective is a visionary undertaking. Undoubtedly, the constructing of this piece was no easy task! 

However, simply compiling information and arranging neat pieces with good editing does not make a story great. In my opinion, A Fatal Likeness lacks the electricity it truly needs to jolt this one to life. Given the baited mystery and intriguing subject matter, the telling of this version is remarkably flat and academic. The text is tired, and tries too hard to seem authentic and as a result, the characters suffer unjustly.  

Since several characters had the same name i.e. Mrs. Shelley (we have three or four?), the individual voices and points of reference (time shifts) are critical to establish. Unique distinction through dialogue is essential and needs to be immediate for recognition. Unfortunately, this is lacking, which results in confusion. I had a difficult time, especially when coupled with picking up and putting down the book, establishing which family or Mrs. Shelley the narrator was talking to or about. Was this a flashback, an interview or present time? At first, I thought this was my fault and resulted from interrupted reading, but after awhile I became frustrated and often had to back up to get grounded. This truly takes the momentum, suspense and mystery out of a story and often, I just felt disoriented. The prolonged flatness of the characters killed it for me. I really lost interest and by the end, empathy. If I was not reading this book for review, it would have ended up in my DNF (did-not-finish) pile at the 50% page mark.  

With such juicy characters to work with, I'm surprised at how chaste, tedious and dry this read actually is.  Overall, a rather boring and disappointing historical fiction.
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*ARC provided by Random House Publishing Group-Bantam Dell courtesy of NetGalley

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