By Paraic O’Donnell
This is a capital Victorian supernatural crime novel set in London in 1893.
Spiritualists and mediums are dazzling society with their seances and attempts to talk to the dead.
Young working women are dying or disappearing from London’s poorer neighborhoods giving rise to rumors about “spiriters” or “shadowy malefactors” stealing their souls.
Meanwhile, Lady Ashenden is giving a ball to honor Lord Strythe, the Earl of Maundley, who is establishing a benevolent foundation to aid injured work girls.
This story is set in motion with the apparent suicide of a seamstress who tumbles from a third story window of Lord Strythe’s Mayfair mansion. When her body is examined, there is a message sewn into the skin of her abdomen. Lord Strythe himself abruptly leaves Lady Ashenden’s ball and disappears.
Unknown to each other, a series of individuals concerned about the missing and dead young women step into the fray. There is, of course, the eccentric Detective Inspector Henry Cutter, known for taking on strange and difficult cases, who is assigned to the suicide at Lord Strythe’s mansion.
Cambridge divinity student Gideon Bliss has been called to London by his uncle, the Reverend Doctor Herbert Neuilly. Rev. Neuilly’s request is urgent, but when Gideon arrives at his lodgings he isn’t there. The Rev. Neuilly has long worked to protect young working girls without family. Without money for a room, Gideon seeks shelter in a nearby church. He discovers the semi-conscious body of Angela Tatton, a young woman his uncle had been protecting and whom Gideon was more than a little in love with.
Before Gideon can do anything to help, he is drugged into unconsciousness. When he comes to, Angela has vanished. He takes advantage of an opportunity and shows up at Cutter’s side in the guise of his sergeant.
Budding reporter Octavia Hillington, relegated to the Society Page, wants to profile Lord Strythe and expose his weak legislative position on improving the conditions of working women. Her editor sees more merit in stories on the spiriters. They strike a deal: she can do a tame profile on Strythe if she produces stories on the spiriters.
Author Paraic O’Donnell is known for his ability to mingle genres. THE HOUSE ON VESPER SANDS is a mystery, a ghost story, and a gothic horror story at the same time. His characters are marvelous, from the impatient, bombastic Inspector Cutter to the highly educated but naive Gideon to the sarcastic and unsuppressible Octavia.
This tale is full of atmosphere and drama, with flashes of comedy and humor.
About the Author: Paraic O’Donnell (1974 – )
Paraic O’Donnell’s first novel, THE MAKER OF SWANS, was shortlisted for a Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Award in 2016. THE HOUSE ON VESPER SANDS was a Guardian and an Observer book of the year for 2018.
In September 2003, at the age of 29, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
O’Donnell grew up in County Wicklow, Ireland, where he now lives with his wife and two children. He is an avid gardener.