BOOK REVIEW: The Pierced Heart

The Pierced HeartThe Pierced Heart by Lynn Shepherd, available in the UK here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Pierced-Heart-Lynn-Shepherd/dp/0345545435, in the US in all good bookshops. 

Thank you Twitter, and thank you Ian Rankin, for flagging up author Lynn Shepherd, whose books are fantastic good fun. She starts with a novel — usually Victorian, though Jane Austen’s had a look-in — and re-imagines the atmosphere of that well-known tale as a mystery waiting to be solved by Charles Maddox, a complicated anti-hero who will exasperate and amuse you in equal measure.

The Lancashire Evening Post said, correctly, in my opinion:

Shepherd has become a mistress of literary conceit, nodding her head at the classics but conjuring up her own magic with tantalising tales that revisit well-trodden themes and territories but bravely venture down extravagant and fanciful new avenues.

Opening one of Shepherd’s books you abandon the Twenty-First century, so wonderfully does she conjure bygone eras, from their smells and sounds, to the patois of the time. An expert on Samuel Richardson (for that alone she gets bonus points — I spent some of the most tedious hours of my life slogging through Pamela and Clarissa), she is a thorough researcher, but like all great storytellers, conveys her knowledge gracefully, rather than pedantically.

In the past, her leaping-off points have been Mansfield Park, Bleak House, and the dark, unhappy back story behind Mary Shelley’s marriage to Percy B, and the writing of Frankenstein. With The Pierced Heart Shepherd turns to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and the results are every bit as hair-raising as the source material and all of its spin-off films.

At the outset we find Charles in deepest, darkest Austria, at the castle of a mysterious nobleman with more than a few blips in his DNA. His resemblance to Count Dracula is a calculated gamble on Shepherd’s part, but she makes it work. This Count is kinky, but is he a murderer as well? That’s what Charles has to find out. As the action ricochets between the UK and the Continent, bodices are ripped, heads are severed, blood flows, and the mysteries of female sexuality are explored. All in all, a rollicking read that will have you glued to the page, or your e-reader, until the surprising conclusion. If you don’t let out an anguished cry when you get there, I’ll buy a hat and then eat it, for Shepherd leaves us dangling in exquisite anguish, calling out for more.

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