This is an almost perfect biography—in a small volume it gives the essentials of Victoria's life in a most agreeable prose style. It is not an academic biography which attempts to cover everything in detail, but a charming, well-written general biography that is an absolute delight to read.
This delightful little book hardly can be called a novel—the story is spun out of very thin material with no great dramatic conflicts, in fact no conflict at all.
Yet Gissing has managed to fashion an interesting tale out of quite ordinary circumstances—a struggling writer whose hard life is made soft near its end by an unexpected inheritance. Thus it is the story of an escape from hardship and pain into a safe harbor.
Anyone inclined to reclusive quiet will find this a charming and comforting book, but those looking for sex, violence, drama, and emotional turmoil won't have the slightest chance of understanding its appeal and should pass it by until life has dealt them some harsh blows.
Ashton-Kirk is a frank imitation of Sherlock Holmes, but not without interest. Like Holmes he has an interest in arcane subjects and the finer things of life and like Holmes he is a "gifted amateur" at solving mysteries, and well-known to both the public and the police for his "powers." His Watson is his friend, Pendleton, who stands ready to be amazed by his deductions and to applaud his success.
What is missing here is the atmosphere of the Holmes stories. The puzzle is fine enough, but there is no London fog.
Fletcher's story is well-paced and the writing is good, but he relies on gimmicks which no mystery writer today would dare use. His coincidences are far-fetched and a bit too convenient to be credible.