Written as a Victorian conceit, this novel is unique for its efficient rendering of a complicated tale, the details exposed much as they would be in an era of restricted communication and limited criminal investigation techniques. Just as actual events might unfold, the author introduces characters and deeds, both innocent and nefarious.
Each chapter adds another layer, a veritable jigsaw puzzle of eccentric personalities, poachers, criminals, lords and lawyers, con men, a damsel in distress and a greedy guardian. At the heart of the tale is the mysterious disappearance of a beautiful, wealthy young widow and an incipient train robbery, the two seemingly unconnected until the final chapters, when even the most incidental character is married to the well-planned theft.
Two deaths are announced at the beginning of the story, albeit one three years later than the other: Henry Ireland is found dead, presumably the victim of an accident; later, his former neighbor is deceased as well, far less pleasantly. As events prove, one death is intimately linked to the other, but only time will unravel the actual events.
Ireland’s widow, Isabel, remains a person of interest, who has not been seen in public since her husband’s death, and the guardianship of one James Dixey, squire of an estate far removed from the prying eyes of London. Dixey’s estate, Easton Hall, is at the crux of the mystery, the residence of the eccentric gentleman who collects an odd assortment of hollowed-out eggs and stuffed animals, decorating his gloomy mansion with such oddments.
Afflicted by a fragile mental condition, Isabel is at Dixey’s mercy and the dour proclamations of her doctor, personally chosen by her guardian to keep Isabel from public view, including her cousin who is vainly searching for her. The true state of Isabel’s mind remains impenetrable as long as her doctor restricts her visitors and medicates his patient to keep her subdued.
Meanwhile, more subtle machinations are in play, from the criminal element to a high-brow attorney, from opportunistic poachers to the infamous Mr. Pardew, a man of questionable associations. In the midst of planning the great train robbery, all elements are compartmentalized in order to remain secret and to thwart any investigation by Scotland Yard’s Capt. McTurk.
In this decidedly murky Victorian tale, where evil intentions and the theft of a fortune are entwined with a daring robbery, McTurk works his magic within the framework of society’s constrictions. Via messages, the gossip of servants, ale house meetings, a lawyer hired to pursue an obscure debt and the ramblings of a drugged widow, all is revealed. Each character is critical to the plot, from the well-intentioned kitchen maid, Esther Spaulding, and her opportunistic lover, William Latch, to the ethereal, damaged Mrs. Ireland. Kept: A Victorian Mystery is perfectly balanced, its diversity held in check by the convergence of accelerated events and the fickle hand of fate.