Madness, greed, love, obsession, Machiavellian plotting, and a great train robbery, in a captivating Victorian mystery about the extreme and curious things men do to get—and keep—what they want
August 1863. Henry Ireland, a failed landowner, dies unexpectedly in a riding accident, leaving a highly strung young widow. Not far away lives Ireland's friend James Dixey, a celebrated naturalist who collects strange trophies—a stuffed bear, a pet mouse, and a wolf that he keeps caged in the grounds of his decaying house, lost in the fog on the edge of the fens.
The poachers, Dewar and Dunbar, with their cargo of pilfered eggs; Esther the observant kitchen maid, pining to be reunited with her vanished admirer; the ancient lawyer Mr. Crabbe, made careless by snobbery; John Carstairs, in search of his cousin, the elusive widow; an enigmatic debt-collector, busily plotting an audacious robbery; various lowlife henchmen; a beady-eyed country curate who sees more than he should; and Captain McTurk of Scotland Yard, patiently investigating the circumstances of Mr. Ireland's death and many other things besides—all are drawn into a net of intrigue with wide and sinister implications.
Ranging from the loch-sides of Scotland to the slums of Clerkenwell, from the gentlemen's clubs of St. James's to the Yukon wilds, Kept is a gorgeously intricate novel about the urge to possess, at once a gripping investigation of some of the secret chambers of the human heart and a dazzling reinvention of Victorian life and passions.
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D. J. Taylor is a novelist, critic, and acclaimed biographer of William Thackeray and George Orwell. His Orwell: The Life won the Whitbread Award in 2003. Married with three children, he lives in Norwich, England.From Booklist:
A talented and versatile writer, author of The Comedy Man (2001) and a biography of George Orwell (2003), Taylor presents a literary Victorian mystery that combines a Dickensian cast of characters with the dark foreboding of Poe. In a story ostensibly about a madwoman whose husband, Henry Ireland, dies in questionable circumstances, finding the killer is ancillary to a journey into the human psyche. Mr. Dixey, a naturalist whose country manse contains rare specimens of stuffed and live wildlife, also houses Henry's distraught widow: her precarious sanity is secure in protective isolation. Dixey's shady proclivities lead him to a con man whose opportunism makes financial captives of people of all classes. The novel's deliciously drawn-out pacing mirrors Victorian literature, as does the wonderfully descriptive language ("skeins of birds," "mournful in the gloaming") and sophisticated vocabulary ("encomia pronounced over his catafalque"). A refreshing lack of unbelievable coincidences reflects a more modern style: each person's story realistically demonstrates the author's conclusions about the things we collect and the people we cannot. Book groups will enjoy this one. Jennifer Baker
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