When Henry Ireland dies unexpectedly from what appears to be a riding accident in August 1863, the failed landowner leaves behind little save his high-strung young widow, Isabel—who somehow ends up in the home of Ireland's friend James Dixey. A celebrated naturalist, Dixey collects strange trophies in his secluded, decaying manse and has questionable associations with rather unsavory characters—including a pair of thuggish poachers named Dewar and Dunbar. Dixey's precocious, inquisitive young servant, Esther, cannot turn a blind eye to the suspicious activities surrounding her. While in the crime-ridden streets of London, a determined captain of Scotland Yard follows the threads that may well link a daring train robbery to the disappearance of a disturbed heiress as well as to the possible murder of Henry Ireland.
D. J. Taylor's Kept is a gorgeously intricate, dazzling reinvention of Victorian life and passions that is also a riveting investigation into some of the darkest, most secret chambers of the human heart.
This richly textured tour de force from British author Taylor (The Comedy Man) centers on the abduction of disturbed heiress Isabel Ireland, whose husband, Henry, died in a fall from his horse (or a blow to the head) near their estate in Suffolk. Through intriguing letters, diaries and compelling narratives by characters from all levels of 1860s English society, Taylor follows Isabel's determined cousins to remote Easton Hall, where she's being kept by sinister James Dixey, a purported naturalist with initially murky motives. Dixey's henchmen destroy eggs of endangered bird species and maintain vicious dogs that distress his servants, especially precocious Esther Spalding, an endearing young maid who cares for Isabel in the manor's lonely west wing. In squalid, crime-ridden London, police captain McTurk shrewdly links a shady debt collection service and dramatic train robbery to Isabel's abduction. The many facets of this absorbing, multilayered tale come together in an understated but fulfilling resolution.