Wednesday 8 May 2019

The Likeness by Bill Kirton

Shortlisted for Book of the Month

The Likeness

"The abundance of detail and the way it is used in the story creates an immersive experience. The emotions of the characters are well portrayed and consistent."




"Aberdeen, 1841. Woodcarver John Grant has an unusual new commission - creating a figurehead to feature onstage in the melodramas of a newly-arrived theatre group. Simultaneously, he’s also trying to unravel the mystery of the death of a young woman, whose body has been found in the filth behind the harbour’s fish sheds.

His loving relationship with Helen Anderson, which began in The Figurehead, has grown stronger but, despite the fact that they both want to be together, she rejects the restrictions of conventional marriage, in which the woman is effectively the property of the husband.
As John works on the figurehead, Helen persuades her father, a rich merchant, to let her get involved in his business, allowing her to challenge yet more conventions of a male-dominated society.
The story weaves parallels between the stage fictions, Helen’s business dealings, a sea voyage, stage rehearsals, and John’s investigations. In the end, the mysterious death and the romantic dilemma are both resolved, but in unexpected ways."

It was my pleasure to read and review Bill Kirton’s The Figurehead recently and I have to admit that I was very excited to get my hands on the sequel. It’s not necessary to have read that previous book to enjoy this one, although another good book is never a bad thing!

There were some fine characters in that story, the finest probably being the setting of Aberdeen in the 1840s and right from the opening page of this one, we are drawn straight back into the times and the lives of the place and the people.

It’s a stormy night and, at the same time as the lifeboat is called out to rescue the crew of a sinking ship, a woman’s body is discovered in one of the less salubrious parts of town. She is unknown and overdressed for the location. You can feel the power of the storm and the menace in the air and the streets. The descriptions, as the scene is set, are vivid, which is one of the things I enjoy most about this author's work. He brings every scene alive in a few short sentences, without resorting to an 'information dump'.

As the story progresses, we reacquaint ourselves with some familiar faces. There’s a new commission for John Grant, the woodcarver and part-time detective; a travelling theatre group require a figurehead for their stage scenery. Their patron, a local merchant, is paying. 

John is still romantically involved with Helen Anderson, daughter of a local shipowner. Her character is expanding in scope, as she seeks to escape the confines of what society expects from a single young woman of her class. She wants to take more of an interest in her father’s business and proposes a voyage on one of his ships, to see how the passengers that they take across the Atlantic are treated.

These threads are gradually drawn together, yet none overwhelm or feel rushed. The developing romance across the social divide, the solving of a crime and the life of a theatre group all mingle naturally. Each of these subplots add to the whole as the author takes his time to paint a picture of life in the city.  This makes the story come alive; even though it’s not our time, it’s a mirror of our lives, several things happening at once, each with their own requirements and consequences. Characters appear, they may stay a while or impart a little information and then vanish, just like they do in our own lives.

Meanwhile, the inept local constable stumbles through his investigation, while more revelations emerge, linking the actors, their patron and the dead girl. There are several suspects, motives aplenty and John, once again, must sort through all the conflicting evidence.

Not content with merely telling the tale of the hunt for the truth about the deceased, we also have several fascinating subplots: there is Helen’s sea voyage to describe, and all the detail regarding the staging and performing of a play, both of which are perfectly done, adding subtle depth and insight to the tale.

The abundance of detail and the way it is used in the story creates an immersive experience. The emotions of the characters are well portrayed and consistent. There are enough twists to keep you guessing and a very clever ending, which leaves plenty of scope for another book in the future.  

The Likeness is a thoroughly fascinating experience, well plotted and executed. In many ways, it is better than its prequel.

© Richard Dee

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for such a generous review, Richard. I'm not sure about writing a third in the series, though.


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