The Quincunx is a book of mechanisms—cunning locks, ensnaring legal clauses, twisting bloodlines. And it is craftily built. Charles Palliser has so immersed himself in nineteenth-century cadence and vocabulary that the novel reads, yes, like one by Dickens, but a Dickens more apt to get caught up in the struggles of his characters and to lose his narrator’s aloofness. Palliser took twelve years to research and plot his first novel, and the result is a generous drama. John Huffam narrates the events of his youth, in which he is swept into a generations-old battle for his ancestor’s estate and fortune. His exploits pass through marvelously varied social spheres, from the filthy slums of London to the gleaming mansions on its outskirts. Palliser’s Victorian landscape is rich and pungent and mysterious.