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 among his countrymen. 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 Maddox 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 mentally defeated — and still pursued by the horror he’s unearthed.
London is on the verge of widespread panic, thanks to a string of gruesome murders committed by an elusive predator branded the Vampire. 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.
“It is a rare and precious gift that you possess, and yet there are some…in this supposedly civilized little English town, who would condemn it as witchcraft, or shun it as the delirium of the insane.”
This is the fourth novel by Lynn Shepherd featuring Charles Maddox – we read the first but found in this one we really did not get to know him very well. The plot is twisted, with sinister characters, brutal murders, supernatural mystery, and historical elements referencing Dracula.
Being a relatively short book one would think it a quick read, but in some places it was rather drawn out and required an effort to persevere. The beginning was gripping and set the scene for a cliché horror story. However, a substantial part of this tale was more difficult to read. Although suitably dark and atmospheric, it was a struggle to get through, and we wished the earlier brisk pace could have been maintained throughout the whole of the novel.
The style in which this book is written made it difficult to enjoy. It is fairly inaccessible, challenging in its viewpoint; it kept us from connecting to the characters or the plot. The interchanging chapters from Charles and Lucy’s points of view are not necessarily smooth in their transitions. Those featuring Charles are related in a third person omniscient style of narration, which, although effective in conveying supplemental information, kept us from feeling much investment in him. In fact, Charles comes across as a somewhat unlikable ‘hero’. Perhaps those who have read all three previous novels will have more of his back-story to draw upon and find him more relatable, but in this single volume he is not the most appealing character. In contrast, Lucy’s story is told in first person via her journal entries, which did allow us to feel more empathy towards her and her plight. However, time jumps, both backwards and forwards, between the various sections had us struggling to accurately follow the timeline of events.
This book gives a scientific spin to the traditional vampire tale, and there are some astute insights regarding the blurred lines between actual science, the supernatural, and mere superstition:
“We are all seeking an explanation for what we observe, whether from superstition or from science. Indeed, have not some of our greatest advances stemmed from precisely such a procedure, even – or most especially – when the forces at work are invisible to the eye?”
The ending is confusing to say the least, seemingly coming a bit out of nowhere, and while not a complete cliffhanger, it definitely leaves one major loose end dangling - a starting point for the next book in the series, perhaps?
The Pierced Heart should appeal to fans of gothic stories, particularly Dracula, as this tale combines familiar themes and characters from that classic work, stories of gothic superstition and elements of scientific discovery. It will be interesting to see what literary classic Shepherd chooses as inspiration for the fifth installment of this series.
“The detective has become the detected, and in the most unsettling manner.”
This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.