Another twisty gothic tale that Purcell’s fans are sure to love. 4/5.
Thank you to Bloomsbury Publishing/Raven Books for providing me with an e-copy of this book via NetGalley.
As the age of the photograph dawns in Victorian Bath, silhouette artist Agnes is struggling to keep her business afloat. Still recovering from a serious illness herself, making enough money to support her elderly mother and her orphaned nephew Cedric has never been easy, but then one of her clients is murdered shortly after sitting for Agnes, and then another, and another… Why is the killer seemingly targeting her business?
Desperately seeking an answer, Agnes approaches Pearl, a child spirit medium lodging in Bath with her older half-sister and her ailing father, hoping that if Pearl can make contact with those who died, they might reveal who killed them.
But Agnes and Pearl quickly discover that instead they may have opened the door to something that they can never put back?
I’ve read and enjoyed Laura Purcell’s previous three books: The Silent Companions, The Corset and Bone China. I’m pleased to report that with The Shape of Darkness she has produced another entertaining tale steeped in wall-to-wall gothic spookiness. Creating atmosphere is her forte and all her books are pervaded by a creeping menace, darkness and paranoia.
I thought Bath was a good choice of setting and it was nice to get a narrative set anywhere other than London. This story takes us into a dirtier, grungier side of a city which is gleaming white and regal in so many other stories, particularly period romances. And as this story is a sort of anti-romance, the grimy backdrop is especially fitting.
The story is delivered from two viewpoints: Pearl and Agnes’. I didn’t really warm to Agnes – she’s so brittle and on edge from the very start of the book that she keeps you at a distance. Whereas it’s impossible not to feel for poor little Pearl and wanting to know what would happen to her kept me turning the pages.
As with Purcell’s previous books, there is a good balance of apparently supernatural shennanigans vs. more rational explanations for events. While this juggling act keeps the reader guessing as to what exactly is going on, the mystery is paced perfectly, with new information dripped in at just the right moments to give you a chance to figure it all out for yourself and the final twist is delivered brilliantly.
It’s a shame this wasn’t published for Halloween as it’s the perfect book for the time of year when the nights start drawing in. And if you’re looking for something spooky and chilling, but not “now I have to sleep with all the lights on” scary, this could be the book for you.
Overall: a well-paced, intriguing and atmospheric story in a great, grimy setting. Fans of gothic page-turners won’t be disappointed and will be left looking forward to Purcell’s next.