Today’s team review is from Noelle, she blogs here http://saylingaway.wordpress.com
Noelle has been reading The Likeness by Bill Kirton
The Likeness is a sequel to the enormously popular book by this author: The Figurehead. In that book, the readers were introduced the port city of Aberdeen in the mid-19th century and to three of its citizens: the woodcarver John Grant; William Anderson, a rich merchant; and his headstrong daughter Elizabeth.
The Likeness begins with the discovery of the battered body of a young woman in the muck near the wharves where the Aberdeen fishermen bring in their catches. The body is painfully thin and is clothed in the rich garb of someone not normally found in that area.
Grant is doubtful that the town’s constable – who is short-sighted, lacks intelligence, and has a nasty personality — will ever discover what happened to her, and decides to take on the task of finding her killer. At the same time, he accepts a commission to create a figurehead to feature onstage in the melodramas of a newly-arrived theatre group, a commission paid for by a demanding patron.
The love that developed between John Grant and Helen Anderson in the previous book grows stronger and more evident in this one. Helen wishes to become an integral part of her father’s shipping business, an unheard-of thing in those times, and eventually her father acquiesces. This puts her in direct conflict with a merchant wishing to do business with her father — the patron who paid Grant’s commission and an insulting character.
The story weaves in and out of Helen’s challenges in a male-dominated society, Grant’s investigations, and their love story. It proceeds at a leisurely pace, as befits the times, and is filled with historic details of the theater and actors, the city, and most especially Aberdeen’s busy port. The descriptions of waterfront and the wharves, the ships, and the workers there were compelling, and I read some of them twice for enjoyment. The author has captured the sights, the smells, the city and the societal norms in vivid detail.
Helen as a character is quite unique to her age. I wonder if such women – running businesses and rejecting the restrictions of conventional courtship and marriage, especially the idea that a woman is the property of her husband –actually existed at that time. Certainly, her role is one that will appeal to feminists of all ages. I was particularly drawn to the description of her three-day journey on one of her father’s ships, designed to carry passengers to Canada. It gave further insight into Helen’s intelligence and the plight and strength of those immigrating to North America.
John Grant is kind, thoughtful, intelligent, and certainly amenable to all of Elizabeth’s modern ideas. As a man of his time, I would have liked him to be more resistant. The only tension between them is just a misunderstanding.
The mystery of the woman’s death is far more complex than at first view, and the twists and turns of Grant’s investigation left me puzzled to the very end.
All in all, a successful meshing of historical romance and mystery, with rich detail of a bygone era, by an author who knows how to weave a good story.
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 mystery death and the romantic dilemma are both resolved, but in unexpected ways.
Bill Kirton was a university lecturer in French before taking early retirement to become a full-time writer. He’s won two 2011 Forward National Literature Awards – ‘The Sparrow Conundrum’ was the overall winner of the Humor category and ‘The Darkness’ was runner up in the Mystery category. His historical mystery, ‘The Figurehead’, was long-listed for the 2012 Rubery Book Awards.
He’s produced material in many different media. His radio plays have been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and 4 and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. His stage plays have been performed in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and the USA and he’s been the visiting artist to the Theatre Department of the University of Rhode Island on four separate occasions. There, he directed stage plays, gave classes on creative writing and theatre, performed in revues and translated three plays by Molière for public performance, one of which won a BCLA prize. Material from his Edinburgh Festival revues was broadcast on the BBC, ITV and French television.
He’s also been a TV presenter and a voice-over artist and his scripts for corporate and educational DVDs and videos have won awards in the UK and USA. He’s been a Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow at the Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, and the universities of Dundee and St Andrews.
Most of his novels are set in the north east of Scotland. ‘Material Evidence’, ‘Rough Justice’, the award-winning ‘The Darkness’, ‘Shadow Selves’ and ‘Unsafe Acts’ all feature DCI Jack Carston. ‘The Figurehead’ is a historical novel set in Aberdeen in 1840. The award-winning ‘The Sparrow Conundrum’, is a spoof spy/crime novel also set in Scotland. His comic fantasy novella, ‘Alternative Dimension’ satirises online role-playing games.
His short stories have appeared in the Crime Writers’ Association annual anthology in 1999, 2005 and 2006. IN 2010, one was also chosen for the ‘Best British Crime Stories, Vol. 7’ anthology edited by Maxim Jacubowski.
His non-fiction output includes ‘Brilliant Study Skills’, ‘Brilliant Essay’, ‘Brilliant Dissertation’, ‘Brilliant Workplace Skills’ and ‘Brilliant Academic Writing. He also co-wrote ‘Just Write’ with Kathleen McMillan.
He writes books for children. ‘Rory the Dragon and Princess Daisy’ was published as a tribute to his great niece, Daisy Warn, who lived for just 16 weeks. Proceeds from its sales go to a children’s hospice in South-West England. ‘The Loch Ewe Mystery’ is a stand-alone novel for children aged 7-12 and he’s preparing a series about a grumpy male fairy called Stanley who lives under a cold, dripping tap in his bedroom.