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…
My second blog tour today is for The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell and I am delighted to have been invited to take part by Anne Cater of Random Things Tours. My thanks also to the publisher for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.
Well, Laura Purcell, you owe me a tube of expensive eye cream to try and undo the ravages to my face inflicted by sitting up late into the night finishing your fantastic book. I inhaled the whole thing in a single day. It would have been one sitting if pesky things like having to feed my family hadn’t got in the way. Talk about compulsive reading, I couldn’t tear my eyes or mind away from this immersive story you have woven.
Life in Victorian Bath is alive on the page here, in all its grimy glory. Because this isn’t the world of the gentry, will dances and dinners and pretty dresses. This is the world of the impoverished, who are scratching around for the next pennies that will save them from the arms of the workhouse, walking a fine line that will keep them out of both there and the jail, because neither of those places are anywhere that a person wants to be in Victorian England, and Laura makes this quite clear in her writing. The prose is so evocative, it is alive with sights and sounds and scents, tastes and textures, and it is a pretty dark place she paints on the page. Not here the golden stone and gilded society of Jane Austen’s Bath. This is the perfect setting for a gothic tale that will keep you saucer-eyed into the wee small hours, as I was.
Our protagonist is Agnes, a feeble women of advancing middle-age, trying to scratch a living from her profession of cutting ‘shades’ or silhouette portraits for sitters who are becoming fewer and fewer as the silhouettes fall out of fashion, replaced by advances in technology. To make matter worse, tragedy seems to be striking her few recent clients, making her fear for her reputation and even her safety. This fear makes her seek answers from a spiritualist child, Pearl. But is Pearl’s gift real? And who is really haunting Agnes?
This is such a clever book. From beginning to end, nothing is what it seems. It is impossible to tell what is real and what isn’t, who is honest and who is a charlatan, who is the villain and who we can really trust. My thoughts and conclusions changed from page to page, I had so many wild theories but I never came near to the truth and, oh my god, the ending completely blew me away and left my mind reeling. This is one of those books where everything you think you know gets completely flipped on its head by the end and you end up wondering how the author managed to fool you so completely all the way through. One of the most satisfying books I have read for a long while.
This book has everything you could possibly want in a gothic novel. Darkness, danger, mystery and misdirection. Parts of it are quite vividly disturbing, because the author does not shy away from the real life horrors of this period of history for those who were not wealthy, as well as filling the book with supernatural thrills, but if you are a fan of this type of book, and of Laura’s previous books, you will absolutely love this.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough. There aren’t that many books that I can afford to give up my beauty sleep for at my age, but this one was definitely worth it.
The Shape of Darkness is out now in hardback, ebook and audiobook formats and you can buy a copy here.
There are lots of other great reviews and contents being hosted on the other blogs taking part in the tour so make sure you pay them a visit:
About the Author
Laura Purcell is a former bookseller and lives in Colchester with her husband and pet guinea pigs. Her first novel for Raven Books, The Silent Companions, was a Radio 2 and Zoe Ball ITV Book Club pick and was the winner of the WHSmith Thumping Good Read Award, while her subsequent books – The Corset and Bone China – established Laura as the queen of the sophisticated, and spooky, page-turner.
Connect with Laura:
Facebook: Laura Purcell