After Byron

Image of After Byron
Release Date: 
March 31, 2015
Permanent Press
Reviewed by: 

“Everyone is suspect.”

It is unclear why Norman Beim chose After Byron for the title, except that the fictional Lord Ingersoll was once friends with Byron and was a poet of some renown. Having since stopped publishing, Lord Ingersoll has left England to tour Europe after scandal erupted over his wife’s mysterious disappearance off the coast of Genoa. During the inquest of Lady Ingersoll’s death, other past events came to light: a young pregnant woman drowned with Lord Ingersoll’s name found among her things; his unemotional response to his mother’s accidental death; a creditor found murdered.

Lord Ingersoll travels with Inez Cortina, his deceased wife’s companion and one-time servant, and his manservant Edward Crankshaw. They are strange trio. Inez is dark and mysterious and rumored to be Lord Ingersoll’s mistress. Perhaps she had a hand in the murder. Edward Crankshaw is emotional and unpredictable, a liar, and though he is entirely devoted to his master, would he be capable of murder out of jealousy or fear of being dismissed?

And what motive does Lord Ingersoll have for murdering his wife—does he yearn for his bachelor days, is there a mistress waiting, or perhaps his temper snapped and he pushed his wife a little too hard and she went overboard?

Readers learn about Lord Ingersoll and his companions through the somewhat inept detecting by soon-to-be barrister Gerald Marston. Strapped for cash while on his Grand Tour, Gerald is hired to report on Lord Ingersoll’s daily activities. Gerald grows a beard and puts on glasses for his disguise as he trails Lord Ingersoll from Geneva to Genoa. It is luck that keeps Gerald from being immediately discovered, especially once he accidentally falls in love with Lord Ingersoll’s illegitimate daughter, Diana Shelton.

After Byron is reminiscent of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Wilike Collins’ Lady in White, and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. This neatly woven story is a jolt to a hibernating imagination. There is a sense that perhaps Lady Ingersoll has risen from the grave to tell secrets or perhaps Inez Cortina is a madwoman loose from the attic. Perhaps it is Edward Crankshaw lurking in the moor outside the manor house of Chillon.

Told in a series of letters, notes, and diary entries, After Byron is an epistolary novel that features a cast of fascinating characters swept up in Lord Ingersoll’s charm and misfortune. Gerald Marston is the primary narrator of this gothic tale as readers access his diaries to discover how the many plots will unfold.

Braving the danger of returning to where Lady Ingersoll’s mother remains and insists on justice, Lord Ingersoll returns to his English manor Chillon with Diana. Now sixteen, Diana is in need of a suitable husband, and her mother wants Lord Ingersoll to find someone wealthy and titled for their child. Unbeknownst to either parent, Diana has already made her choice.

Gerald follows and pursues Diana, risking all. Gerald has lied about his name and omitted what he was doing in Italy when they met. Will Diana forgive him? Gerald must face a future father-in-law on whom he was spying and risk discovery. Will Crankshaw recognize him? If there is truth to the accusations of Lady Ingersoll’s mother, then Lord Ingersoll is a murderer. Is Gerald’s life in danger? Lord Ingersoll is a stern and tempestuous man, not one to be trifled with, and certainly not an easy man to ask permission from to marry his daughter.

As the story unfolds, the unexpected is revealed and to be reveled in. Author Beim is an actor and playwright, which comes across in this novel of characters. The dialogue and action carry the reader along as the depth of the characters suck the reader in. Not satisfied to leave a single character mentioned as a flat or stock character, Beim deftly imbues everyone with a psychological depth befitting a complex human—all very believable and more than satisfactory.

Playing his cards close to his chest with this book, the author gives little away with foreshadowing or dropped clues. While not all the senses are engaged in the telling of this fascinating tale, the story is a page-turner that focuses heavily on character development and suspense. Everyone is suspect.