With thanks to the publishers for providing me with an ebook review copy via NetGalley.
Lynn Shepherd fans will already know that each of her novels have as their inspiration a classic work of literature. Murder at Mansfield Park fairly obviously Mansfield Park, Tom-All-Alone’s; Bleak House, A Treacherous Likeness, took as its inspiration Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the lives of those concerned with that infamous Swiss holiday . Now The Pierced Heart plays homage to Dracula, Bram Stoker’s classic gothic novel while also drawing on the real life story of a mysterious scientist.
As the novel opens in 1851, Charles Maddox; thief taker is on his way to Austria, to the remote castle of the mysterious Baron Von Reisenberg. Maddox’s simple seeming mission is to verify the antecedents of the Baron, following his offer of a large donation towards the upkeep of the Bodleian Library. The custodians not wishing to turn down a donation nevertheless need to be sure of where exactly it has come from. Maddox is saddened and depressed man, following the tragic death of his lover, and welcomes the chance to escape from London for a short time.
“That night the nightmares return, and brutally. Charles wakes before dawn to the sound of his own voice crying and bed sheets sodden with sweat. He lurches up, wiping the tears from his face, and sits a moment breathing heavily. “
The Baron’s castle is a very forbidding place, where the Baron a reclusive scientist conducts research into sleepwalking. It isn’t long before Maddox discovers that there is a very dark side to the Baron, who has secrets he hadn’t wanted Maddox to discover, when Charles finds his way into a private chamber momentarily left unlocked, his difficulties with the Baron really begin. The locals are superstitious and Maddox comes to hear some of the tales told in whispers about the Baron, and of a local girl found dead beneath the high castle walls. These stories concern the legend of Nosferatu, the strigoi, the Undead, stories Charles Maddox treats with amused condescension. Maddox’s stay at the castle ends with Charles being mauled by a terrifying dog before being carted off to an asylum.
“I am becoming a thing of darkness. My eyes are too weak to bear even the dim glow that comes when he opens the door, and I recoil from it in pain, as I recoil from his touch. I can no longer even see his face, as the light streams in behind him and he seems monstrous, like a fiend of some half-forgotten myth…”
Interspersed with the story of Maddox’s ill-fated trip to Austria (and his eventual return to London) is Lucy’s story told in the form of her journal entries. Lucy is the daughter of an illusionist; the two have been living on the continent for much of Lucy’s life, making their living from a Phantasmagoria show. Now they are on their way back to England, for Lucy is suffering from a mysterious malady, for which her father wishes her only to recover. Lucy and her father return to Whitby, where Lucy’s mother is buried, and where Lucy makes her first real friend. One day, Lucy’s father brings a man to their home, who claims he can help Lucy finally recover from her strange illness. Lucy’s story is naturally caught up with that of the Baron, and events that take place in London a couple of months later. (Readers of the other books in the Maddox series will be left gaping at the end, desperate no doubt for the next instalment).
Back in London and meeting up again with his old friend Sam (now sergeant) Wheeler, Maddox finds himself drawn into the investigation for a brutal killer, a killer who is mutilating the bodies of young women in a very particular way. The investigation takes Maddox into the halls of the Great Exhibition, as the murders begin to look as if they may have a connection with Baron Von Reisenberg, who is now also in London.
The Pierced Heart is a must for fans of gothic stories, particularly Dracula, in this novel Lynn shepherd weaves together stories of gothic superstition and scientific discovery. As with her previous novels Lynn Shepherd has put her own spin on the classic novel that inspired it, with The Pierced Heart she has given a lovely, sharp little twist to the myth that surrounds Dracula and the gothic vampire tale. Perfect reading for these late October evenings, The Pierced Heart is an atmospheric page turner, that fans of those earlier Maddox novels will enjoy.