Cover image for Kept : a Victorian mystery
Title:
Kept : a Victorian mystery
Author:
Taylor, D. J. (David John), 1960-
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollins Publishers, [2007]

©2007
Physical Description:
463 pages ; 24 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780061146084
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

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.


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

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 Copyright 2007 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

This richly textured tour de force from British author Taylor (The Comedy Man) centers on the abduction of disturbed heiress Isabel Ireland, whose husband, Henry, died in a fall from his horse (or a blow to the head) near their estate in Suffolk. Through intriguing letters, diaries and compelling narratives by characters from all levels of 1860s English society, Taylor follows Isabel's determined cousins to remote Easton Hall, where she's being kept by sinister James Dixey, a purported naturalist with initially murky motives. Dixey's henchmen destroy eggs of endangered bird species and maintain vicious dogs that distress his servants, especially precocious Esther Spalding, an endearing young maid who cares for Isabel in the manor's lonely west wing. In squalid, crime-ridden London, police captain McTurk shrewdly links a shady debt collection service and dramatic train robbery to Isabel's abduction. The many facets of this absorbing, multilayered tale come together in an understated but fulfilling resolution. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Novelist and Whitbread Biography Award winner Taylor (Orwell: The Life) sends us back into the 1860s, when a riding accident widows Isabel Ireland, a delicate and purportedly mentally unsound woman. Isabel is sent to live on a nearby estate owned by the celebrated naturalist and local oddity James Dixey. This decaying estate is filled with stuffed bears, rare osprey eggs, and locked-up specimens. On the grounds, with orchards in complete neglect, a tame wolf roams and a pack of dogs runs. The large cast of protagonists and vile characters is filled with dregs, lawyers, henchmen, and sympathetic servants, every one of whose lives is intertwined with that of the secluded widow. Investigating the death of Mr. Ireland is Captain McTurk of Scotland Yard, who methodically cobbles the evidence together, eventually stumbling upon a sinister plot. Taylor has captured the essence of the Victorian novel and weaves it through his gripping narrative. Suitable for all libraries.-Ron Samul, New London, CT (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Kept A Victorian Mystery Chapter One Eggmen I will happily declare that there is no sight so harmonious to the eye or suggestive to the spirit as Highland scenery. A man who sits on the Metropolitan Railway to Marylebone may be comforted by what he sees, but I do not think he will be inspired. A ziggurat raised by some bold industrialist for the purposes of his manufacture is an edifying spectacle, no doubt, but a mountain is moral. Philosophy quails before it, science grows mutely respectful and literature is both exalted and cast down. The traveller who desires a sense of his own insignificance will discover it here on some descending slope, down in the shadow of some mighty summit, there beneath some rill that has run since the dawn of time. God walks in the mountains, but it is the mountains that will drive Him out, with their granite secrets and the truth that lies concealed in their stone, and mankind be reduced to an antlike insubstantiality beside them. Or so we are told. It was late in the afternoon of an April day in the year of Our Lord 186-, on a steam engine moving slowly forward--impossibly slowly--along the Highland line through Inverness-shire, a line so lately instituted that everything about it had an air of novelty. The uniforms of the officials shone as if they had only that morning arrived in bandboxes from the seamstress, the engine appeared to have been polished overnight, and even the passengers--subdued Highland folk, for the most part, with their baggage piled at their feet--seemed to have donned their best clothes for the occasion. All this Dunbar observed from his seat in the corner of the third-class carriage, and though grateful for the mechanised wonder that drew him nearer his destination, he thought that he did not like it. Outside the window the sky was darkening, so that the distant peaks and the valley through which they ran turned red and purple, and for a moment he bent his eye on what lay beyond him rather than things nearer at hand. A herd of Highland cattle grazing the sloping moor; a woman and her child waiting patiently at a wayside crossing; a flock of birds--he knew about birds, for in a certain sense they were his profession--wheeling away to the north: all these Dunbar saw and brought together in his mind to feed his sense of dissatisfaction. "Of course," he said at length, "it's not as if they're civilised folk in these parts." The words brought Dewar, who lay sprawled next to him on the double seat of the compartment, one arm thrown over the square teak box they had brought from Edinburgh that morning, out of his half slumber. "Ain't they, though?" "Surely not! Why it's not more than a century since Cumberland smoked them out and made them pay. My grandfather's father fought at Culloden. Saw a man stick a babby with a bayonet. Said it would stay with him till his dying day." Dewar drew himself up from his slouch and began to dust down his shirt-front with a spotted handkerchief that he took from the pocket of his coat. "Why would a man stick a babby with a bayonet? It seems an uncommon devilish thing to do." A fellow passenger, moving along the train's corridor, had that traveller peered in through the compartment window, would have seen an odd assortment of persons and their gear. Dunbar, a tall, gaunt man of perhaps fifty years of age, wore a green sporting jacket and a pair of corduroy trousers, which combination made him look not unlike a gamekeeper. Dewar, shorter and rather younger, was the more ill-favoured of the two, fat and somewhat unhealthy-looking, his costume completed by a shabby frock coat of which the braid was beginning to part company with the lapels. Rolled up in bundles on luggage racks, or strewn about on the floor, lay a variety of miscellaneous items, each of which posed some question as to the object of their journey: a pair of heavy walking boots, two cork life jackets, a woollen scarf and a coiled length of rope. Dewar's gaze, which had fallen for a moment or two on the square teak box, widened to take in this further cargo. "We seem to have brought a deal of stuff with us. How are we to carry it all, I should like to know?" Something in the set of Dunbar's eye perhaps disclosed that he did not regard his associate with complete confidence. "I can see you're new to this game, my boy. Green you are indeed. Why, when we get to the other end there'll be a gig to meet us. Take us right to where we want to go as well, I shouldn't wonder." There was an unspoken question in this statement which the younger man either did not appreciate or chose not to answer. But his companion persisted. "What line of trade was you in before Bob Grace pushed you my way?" "Grocer." Something in this spoke of ruinous mischance, of hope denied, tragedy even. Another man would have given up the pursuit, but Dunbar continued easily. "General or green stuff?" "General." "Any reason for giving it up?" Dewar stared before him at the cork life jackets draped over the opposing seat. "Wife took bad and I had to nurse her. It's hard on a fellow when that happens." "Harder still when she dies. Very hard. Here, have a fill of this and you'll feel better." They smoked Dunbar's tobacco companionably for a while, nodding at the people who wandered along the corridor and resting their feet on their bundles. It was now perhaps half past four in the afternoon, and the light was growing grey. Outside the land continued to rise, and there were shadows creeping down among the granite escarpments of the hills. The day was drawing in. Dunbar was not an imaginative man--a rock to him was a rock that might have to be scaled, a mountain stream the hazard of wet feet--but nonetheless something of the bleakness of the prospect communicated itself to him and he clasped his hands together against a cold that he could not yet feel but knew would come. Kept A Victorian Mystery . Copyright © by D. Taylor. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from Kept: A Victorian Mystery by D. J. Taylor All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.