I found The Specimen to be a very odd book. It was a little like Fingersmith by Sarah Waters in that I thought that it was creepy (Victorian fiction very often goes that way), almost to the point of revulsion, but I kept reading anyway. It is described in the blurb as a romantic melodrama, but I did not find it at all romantic.
The narrative begins with a murder trial, and then goes back in time to tell the reader about the events leading up to the trial. It centres around two sisters who live in a remote house in Cornwall and their relationship with a man called Edward Scales, who we find out at the beginning is the murder victim.
The protagonist is one of the sisters, Gwen. She is a talented artist and an independent woman with an interest in natural science. I particularly enjoyed the bits that related to her work and her paintings of specimens. A central theme of the book is about the price that she pays for maintaining her independence and pursuing her passions in a misogynist Victorian society.
Edward is a very unlikeable character right from the beginning, which ruins any aspirations this book has about being a romance. I found parts of the book are not clearly written, which turns out later to be a plot device but makes it quite difficult to read in places. I was also left with a feeling of "so what?" at the end - the plot is a little thin and meandering and leads to no significant conclusion.
Overall I felt this was a solid but not brilliant Victorian drama about the struggles of women in the nineteenth century. Fans of Sarah Waters might enjoy this, although it in no way lives up to the blurb - those expecting a thrilling romance will be disappointed.