Book Review

The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell

the house on vesper sands

The House on Vesper Sands is a novel that I was looking forward to reading from its release, my interest piqued by the combination of a mystery with some supernatural goings on.

Ladies and gentlemen, the darkness is complete.

It is the winter of 1893, and in London the snow is falling.

It is falling as Gideon Bliss seeks shelter in a Soho church, where he finds Angie Tatton lying before the altar. His one-time love is at death’s door, murmuring about brightness and black air, and about those she calls the Spiriters. In the morning she is gone.

The snow is falling as a seamstress climbs onto a ledge above Mayfair, a mysterious message stitched into her own skin. It is falling as she steadies herself and closes her eyes.

It is falling, too, as her employer, Lord Strythe, vanishes into the night, watched by Octavia Hillingdon, a restless society columnist who longs to uncover a story of real importance.

She and Gideon will soon be drawn into the same mystery, each desperate to save Angie and find out the truth about Lord Strythe. Their paths will cross as the darkness gathers, and will lead them at last to what lies hidden at the house on Vesper Sands.

The House on Vesper Sands contains some great characters, most notably Inspector Cutter and Octavia Hillingdon.  The Inspector’s jurisdiction incorporates crimes that are a little unusual, and so Angela’s disappearance piques his interest when Gideon insists that he investigate it.  He is one of those outwardly gruff individuals who occasionally slips up and, unintentionally, shows a softer side.  Octavia Hillingdon was also brilliant, if quite different.  An ambitious journalist, she is desperate to report upon a real story rather than what’s going on in society, and she comes across as being ahead of her time with her progressive views.  The main protagonist is Gideon, and if I didn’t like him as much as Cutter and Octavia, I did find him admirable in his determination to do the right thing, even if the way he goes about it is sometimes questionable.

I don’t want to go into the plot in any great detail as I think that the above blurb tells the reader plenty, but all three of these characters become involved in the disappearance of Angela Tatton, and it soon becomes apparent that she is not the first young woman to go missing under unusual circumstances.  Gideon and Cutter’s path follows that of a police procedural, with them following the clues until they arrive at the titular Vesper Sands, and I really enjoyed this aspect of the novel.  It’s clear that Cutter is observant, and I loved the Holmes-like level of deduction he displays to get them closer to the truth.

Octavia is also investigating Angela’s disappearance, albeit from a journalistic perspective, and if I had any slight niggle with the story, it’s that I felt that more could have been done with Octavia’s character.  She is pitched as wanting to uncover a real story, and yet seems to do very little investigative work of her own, with a lot of the information coming to her rather than being discovered by her.  This is just personal preference of course, but I felt that she had a strong set up that wasn’t fully delivered upon.

The House on Vesper Sands combines a police procedural with a Gothic, supernatural element, and it’s a combination that I thought worked brilliantly.  I thought that the idea behind the novel was wonderfully original, and I raced through to find out what would happen and whether Gideon would be reunited with Angela by the end of the novel.

Published in 2018 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, The House on Vesper Sands is available in hardback and digital formats, with the paperback to be published in May.

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