Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, is a sensation novel of Victorian England that rivalled Wilkie Collins' own efforts. What's a sensation novel? Just as it suggests - it causes a sensation because it deals with women of deception, crimes committed, adultery, and general immorality. Compare those themes with the gentility of Austen.
For this reason alone, it is an important work. It was one instrument in the creation of a genre, as well as being amongst the earliest crime novels. This novel includes murder attempts, child abandonment, bigamy, and deceipt.
The plot is complex and well-structured, overall a generally good story, and the characters are well-rounded enough.
However..... the writing is dull. No, not the dullest, but dreary nonetheless. I enjoy a lengthy well-described scene, but Braddon writes more like a screen writer. It's just lifeless and flat. Perhaps that's the style of crime novels? After 100 pages, they became mind-numbing. Also, it draaaaags on. I mean, I worked out the initial mysteries (it was just obvious) within the first couple of chapters but had to wait until the middle of the tale to have them revealed. So I lost interest very quickly. Obviously a contemporary reader wouldn't have had years of tv dramas and other novels that formed a schema of crime-genre development in her mind.
I can certainly see its appeal in its day, very shocking indeed. But today? I think that I can only recommend it to those who are fans of both crime-mysteries and classics. For it's importance it's worth having read it, and may deserve another star for that, but if 19thC crime doesn't do it for you, you'll likely be disappointed and find it a waste of time. I'm a classics fan and this was very below par. I didn't hate it, but I didn't enjoy it either.
You can read it online here.