October 24, 2016

Book Review: The Pierced Heart by Lynn Shepherd

Source: Vine

The shadow of Bram Stoker’s Dracula looms large over the darkest mystery yet faced by Victorian detective Charles Maddox—as the acclaimed author of The Solitary House and A Fatal Likeness once again pays homage to a literary classic, in a chilling tale of superstition, dangerous science, and shocking secrets.
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.

At first, The Pierced Heart appears to faithfully follow the storyline of Dracula, as Charles Maddox arrives in the remote Austrian estate of the mysterious and charismatic Baron von Reisenberg. Shepherd sets the gothic scenes in creepy, eerie detail, making shiver under my blankets. The castle is forbidding and strange, seemingly supernatural events occur - yet the Baron, who claims to be scientist, has practical explanations for everything. And yet, something is not right at all and the steadily alarming course of events leads Maddox to an insane asylum.

Shepherd took elements from Dracula - characters and scenes and re-worked them into something original - yet not altogether plausible. Coincedences abound and the solution to the mystery of the Baron's motivations initially confused me. However, a search of the real-life obscure scientist (Baron von Reichenbach) upon whom the Baron is based upon does indeed give credence to Shepherd's plot twist. She certainly did her research.

"No rational man could believe it. I merely observe that for all the discoveries that have been made since I was a boy, it seems to me that all we have thus far learned is how much we do not know. And nowher do I believe that to be more apposite than in relation to mankind itself, and the powers and terrors of the human mind."

I haven't read the other books featuring Maddox but I found I didn't need to. The Pierced Heart can be read as a standalone. But after reading it, you will probably want to pick up the others.

There are graphic scenes - the Victorian-like writing does not shy away from describing the gruesome horrors that Maddox encounters.

Perfect Halloween reading for the literary mystery fan.

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