This story is amazingly suspenseful and constantly surprised me at every turn. This is definately not your standard Victorian melodrama. The cast of characters is far more streamlined than those you'd find in Dickens and they are not so cartoonish. The psychological and chemistry (!) aspects of the story are surprisingly modern , espeically in comparison with those expressed in the works of Dickens. Usually I am a pretty hard reader to surprise, especially when it comes to older works of fiction, but some of the twists and turns took me by complete astonishment. This is a very well planned out novel and there is not a gratuitous scene or character in it, so be forewarned to pay attention! Even characters who seem very incidental in the beginning show up later. I especially loved the character of Count Fosco who is a literally larger than life villian (or is he really the hero?) who is hard not to admire. The plot is brilliant.
The only disappointment in terms of characterization is Laura who is rather pale and passive, especially in comparison to Marion. I kept wanting her to show some backbone like her sister and Laura's is the only voice we never hear from in the story despite her being such a pivotal character. Like most Victorian novels there is some casual sexism that seems a little weird to modern tastes, but it did not spoil the novel for me. Some of the insight of the of the author in terms of the use of chemistry and tits powers over the mind is very interesting and surprisingly modern.
I am really surprised this novel was never on my Victorian literature syllabus in university. It is very well written. The descriptions never run on too long and the insight the characters express about themselves and their motives is very interesting and three dimensionally characterized.
The story is told by several different characters through letters and diary enteries and Ian Holm manages to give excellent voice to all of them, distinguishing himself especially with his preformances of Count Fosco and Frederick Fairlie. His acting is very natural and he has a beautiful voice. I highly recommend anything narrated by him.