Cover Image: A Talented Man

A Talented Man

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Find yourself transported back to London in 1938, where the elegantly evoked threat of war is a constant backdrop to this fascinating, unsettling story.

At one level a compellng and clever literary thriller, this novel also uses the Dracula myth to explore the messy complexity of human motivation.
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Hugely Atmospheric Literary Suspense.....
Elegant suspense featuring Ellis Spender a rejected writer who decides to forge a sequel to one of the most famous novels in history - Dracula - his thinking being that when the sequel is discovered his dreams of a high living lifestyle with all that he feels he is rightly entitled to can, at last, come to fruition. Filled with credible and colourful characters and hugely atmospheric this is a fabulous read and a clever, well written literary suspense which will keep you turning the pages.
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After using Arthur Conan Doyle in her debut novel Violet Hill, Henrietta invokes another famous writer from slightly earlier in A Talented Man, but there also a hint - just a hint - of another great crime writer in that title. Although not quite the same as Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley, there is indeed a young man in Henrietta McKervey's period crime fiction who impersonates another person and embarks on a spree of fraud and deception with the aim of enjoying a life of ease on the continent. In the case of Ellis Spender however, the deception is far more ambitious and requires no small amount of talent turned towards twisted ends; he intends to impersonate Bram Stoker, no less, the author of Dracula.

A Talented Man is set in the mid 1930s, where the world is on the brink of an unthinkable new world war and the formerly wealthy middle classes are starting to see a change in their fortunes. Ellis Spender is frustrated by his lack of success as a budding novelist and dissatisfied with his home circumstances. Formerly a well-off family - Ellis's now dead father Sidney Spender a once renowned artist with a studio in Mayfair before his paintings went out of fashion - the family's fortunes have dwindled. His mother still has some airs towards respectability but they now have lodgers instead of servants, and the house - like Sidney's paintings - feels like a fading remnant of an older age.

It seems a suitable place then for Ellis's uncle Freddie's cases. A theatre 'impressario' from its golden age, Freddie has taken off for America leaving his belongings and debts with his sister Virginia, Ellis's mother, storing them away in a dark dusty room. Among these artifacts and memorabilia are some letters of a rather intimate nature that a man called Winsome sent to his uncle Freddie and would like retrieved. Ellis manages to extort a large sum of money from the man that provides him with the means to take Janey, a young lady lodger he is obsessed with, out to have a good time on the town.

The money doesn't go far of course and soon Ellis is contemplating what other money he can make from Freddie belongings and his associations with the theatrical world. His uncle has been a good friend of many glittering lights of the Lyceum; Gilbert and Sullivan, Henry Irving, Bram Stoker and had worked in a touring production of Dracula. His own family have an Irish background and close association with the Stokers and there is a great deal of correspondence between them. Some of that correspondence refers to a sequel to Dracula that Stoker abandoned and destroyed and it appeals to Ellis's nature as a writer and his ability to mimic signatures (something that got him into trouble before) to embark on an ambitious but risky project.

It's a while before you get to this point but you can see the direction it is heading. McKervey takes the time however to develop various quirks and twists in Ellis's nature, his obsession with Janey, his lack of success as a writer, and a particular kick he seems to get out of using his talent to deceive people. There are also lots of little incidental but significant details in the family background and the progression of the road to war that provoke interest and speculation and provide a credible basis for what follows. It's in this respect that McKervey really comes closest to Patricia Highsmith, the absolute master of delving into the mind of the accidental criminal. And what follows also lives up fully to the early developments, as events inevitably escalate and head down some paths that a talented criminal mind might not anticipate but must be able to see through to their dark conclusion.
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Ellis Spender is twenty nine years old, resentful and struggling for cash.   His mother Virginia, Lady Spender, has spent much of, what Ellis considers ‘his’ inheritance, paying of the debts of her beloved brother, Freddie Broughton, who has vanished to America to pursue his acting career.  All that is left are his belongings, cluttering up his mother’s house, where Ellis lives with her and two paying guests – Patrick Arcourt, who is studying at the Royal London Hospital and Janey Gould, who works at the Lyceum.   The fact that Lady Spender has resorted to taking in lodgers, is made more acceptable to her through the fact they are known to her from friends, or family.

One night, Ellis is concerned he is being followed and is approached by Ernest Winsome; thankfully, not a debtor, but an acquaintance of Uncle Freddie.    Ernest is looking for some letters, which he wrote to Freddie, which are of a delicate nature.  Desperate for money, and enjoying Mr Winsome’s discomfort, Ellis agrees to search through Uncle Freddie’s boxes.   His mother, Virginia, grew up with Florence Stoker and a discovery among the boxes of papers,  leads him to consider how much a lost sequel to ‘Dracula,’ could bring…

This is an interesting, literary mystery.   The characters are intriguing and develop and change through the novel, while the idea of a sequel to Bram Stoker’s most famous novel – and how it can be obtained - is an interesting one.   If you enjoy mysteries, with a literary twist, this is sure to be a winner.  I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.
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A gripping and fascinating historical thriller, cleverly written and engrossing.
The historical background is vivid and fascinating, the characters are complex and well thought, the plot grow slowly on you making this book a page turner.
I appreciated how Ellis was written and to read how he change and evolves. There's a lot of character development and the author did a good job.
It's the first book I read by the author and won't surely be the last.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
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In “A Talented Man” Henrietta McKervey effortlessly takes us back to pre-war London (1938) and exquisitely tells the tale of Ellis Spender, a man with connections but short on confidence who emerges from the “wings” to take centre stage as a dark and devious lead character. This dramatic transformation occurs following a not-so-chance encounter with a stranger who previously had a link with Ellis’ rather unpleasant Uncle now based in the US. Further encouragement from the pretty but unattainable lodger Janey, sets Ellis on a path where his real talents flourish but also one where he ultimately gets long overdue vengeance and a good bit more!  

The intricately clever story is set in the twilight years of the golden age of theatre in London but has roots in Dublin. It is a fascinating story gracefully told with a great cast of characters.  “A Talented Man” is a clever, atmospheric thriller - you will not want to miss this!
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