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 story 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.
About the author:
Bill Kirton was born in England but has lived in Aberdeen, Scotland, for most of his life. He 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 Figurehead, the book that led up to The Likeness, 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. Material from his Edinburgh Festival revues was broadcast on the BBC, ITV and French television.
You can find Bill Kirton
On twitter: @carver22
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bill.kirton/
and at: http://www.billkirton.com/
You can find his books on Amazon: