The Pierced Heart by Lynn Shepherd

November 12, 2014

When an Austrian nobleman offers a substantial donation to the University of Oxford, Charles Maddox is called on to investigate the generous benefactor. It is a decidedly mundane task for the increasingly renowned criminal investigator, but Maddox welcomes the chance to trade London’s teeming streets for the comforts of a castle in the Viennese countryside. Comfort, however, is in short supply once Maddox steps onto foreign soil—and into the company of the mysterious Baron Von Reisenberg.

A man of impeccable breeding, the Baron is nonetheless the subject of frightened whispers and macabre legends. Though Maddox isn’t one to entertain supernatural beliefs, the dank halls and foreboding shadows of the castle begin to haunt his sleep with nightmares. But in the light of day the veteran detective can find no evidence of the sinister—until a series of disturbing incidents prove him gravely mistaken and thrust him into a harrowing quest to expose whatever evil lurks behind the locked doors of the Baron’s secretive domain. After a terrifying encounter nearly costs him his sanity, Maddox is forced to return home defeated—and still pursued by the horror he’s unearthed.

Owing to a string of gruesome murders committed by an elusive predator branded the Vampire, London is on the verge of widespread panic. But there’s little doubt in Maddox’s mind who is responsible. And whether his enemy proves merely mortal—or something more—Maddox must finally end the monstrous affair . . . before more innocent blood is spilled.

Charles Maddox returns in this, his third outing, and when we first meet him he is at his lowest ebb. Still suffering from the aftermath of his last case, he wants to get away from London and the memories it evokes. An opportunity to travel the continent and escape his very personal demons seems too good to miss.

His travels take him deep into the wilds of the Austrian countryside where he meets a new nemesis, Baron Von Reisenberg. The baron is a suitably sinister antagonist, he remains deliciously tight lipped about all of his most secretive affairs. As he is of noble blood, and believes he is above the law and can do as he pleases. Needless to say, this most mysterious of men piques the interest of everyone that hears about him. Just what is going on in his remote castle? Why does he shun the daylight? What reasons could he possibly have for this behaviour?  It’s up to Maddox to uncover the true nature of the Baron’s work.

I enjoyed The Pierced Heart and the way it blends together elements of classic horror and historical crime. The plot has a nice gothic edge and enough twists and turns to keep any reader on their toes. The only thing I felt was a little lacking in this instance was more insight into Charles’ mental state. As I mentioned before, the events of his previous investigations have left their mark and I really wanted to see this explored. In fairness, it was touched upon to a degree, but never in any great depth. Having had a character established over the course of a series of books I’m always keen to see how they continue to evolve. They shouldn’t, and don’t, exist in isolation so insight into their thoughts and feelings are key. I liked what was there; I think I am a bit greedy and wanted more. Maddox is one of the few constants in these novels and it would be wonderful to flesh out his life that little bit more.

As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews of her work, I genuinely think Shepherd’s writing would make for good television, I’d love to see Maddox make the leap from page to screen. Victorian crime is just so damned evocative and lends itself well to serialised adaptation, Aunty Beeb is great at pulling off that sort of thing. Add the fact that in this case you’ve got murder with just a hint of potential vampirism thrown in for good measure, it hits just about every point on my extensive checklist. It’s exactly the sort of dark costume drama I’d be more than happy to watch.

The thing I like most about historical fiction, particularly crime, is when the sights and sounds of the age come alive as you read. Lynn Shepherd has a real skill when it comes to capturing this. There are some scenes that take place at the Great Exhibition, the evocative hustle and bustle of the British Empire at its height.

Before reading this book, I would definitely recommend checking out Tom-All-Alones and A Treacherous Likeness first. The Pierced Heart can certainly be viewed as a standalone, but I think you’ll get more from the plot if you are familiar with what events have transpired before.

The Pierced Heart is published by Delacorte Press and available now.

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