THE QUINCUNX by Charles Palliser
Kirkus Star


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Palliser's first novel is an extraordinary achievement: a triple-decker (800-page) Victorian pastiche, obviously modeled on Bleak House, unfolding the staggeringly complex tale of young John Huffam's attempts to ward off ruin and death until he can solve multiple family mysteries. Everybody wants the codicil to long-dead Jeoffrey Huffam's will. But since John's mother Mary refuses to sell it to the lordly Mompessons (who want to destroy it before it impeaches their claim to Jeoffrey's estate) or surrender it to her mysterious enemy (who will inherit the estate if he can place the codicil in Chancery and arrange to outlive John and Mary), everybody sets out to get it by fair means or foul, ruining them through gullible Mary's weakness for speculation and driving the two from their modest country home to London--where they find poverty, illness, and death, all described with a wealth of period detail. Every revelation of a new branch of John's grasping family--the Clothiers, the Palphramonds, the Malaphants--brings new threats to John, betrayed at every turn by false friends who steal his property, apprentice him to a gang of thieves, send him to an isolated prison farm to die, and commit him to a madhouse. Coincidences turn out to be the product of intricate conspiracies, relatives ceaselessly using John to get at each other as he narrowly escapes a kidnap attempt; gets nailed into his father's coffin; toils for pennies in the London sewers; and keeps taking refuge with precisely the wrong people. Meanwhile, the Chancery tug-of-war becomes more and more tangled--until promised revelations of who killed and defrauded whom and what John's connection is to the Regency social fabric that's been rotting around him all along bring his grandly interminable tale to an end. Exhaustively researched and exhaustingly plotted. If you've been longing for a new Wilkie Collins, this will keep you stylishly bamboozled for a week.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Ballantine