Wicked deeds require the cover of darkness…
A struggling silhouette artist in Victorian Bath seeks out a renowned child spirit medium in order to speak to the dead – and to try and identify their killers – in this beguiling new tale from Laura Purcell.
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…
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…
What secrets lie hidden in the darkness?
I was so happy to be reunited with Laura Purcell’s writing this month after falling for her delicious take on contemporary gothic within three paragraphs of The Silent Companions and I couldn’t wait to see what was awaiting me in The Shape of Darkness after devouring The Corset and Bone China equally as feverishly. I am very grateful to be joining the blog tour and I have to say that I am able to say unequivocally that Laura Purcell is a writer who you always think can’t get any better – until you read her next book. The Shape of Darkness is everything I need in a winter read and I’m sure already that this will feature in my top 10 books of this year – and it’s only January.
Gothic is my favourite genre and Laura Purcell is a writer who you know that you are in safe hands with as soon as you turn the first page. She’s a writer at the top of her game and the genuine sense of creeping unease you feel when you enter Agnes’ world and find that her just as her name is literally Darker, so too is the path that you are being taken down as you enter the grimy backstreets of Bristol and feel the sense of menace and danger surrounding her. Once you enter these streets and walk them alongside Agnes, you will soon begin to fall under this hypnotically seductive novel’s spell and start to feel the ominous atmosphere permeate your reading experience as you start to explore the mysterious deaths alongside child medium Pearl and her sister Myrtle whose relationship with the mystery and the truth behind events is – in true Purcell style – never as straightforward as you might think on the surface…
If you are turned off by darkness then this is perhaps not the book for you, and definitely don’t say that you haven’t been warned. If it’s not enough of a giveaway that I read this book late into the night with one eye on the landing light and another on the page, then don’t say you haven’t been warned If you are looking for something to remind yourself of the goodness inherent within human nature, you’ve come to the wrong place – but my goodness, this is a marvellously dark and deviously delightful read.
We are lured into the narrative and totally fall under the spell of these characters’ determination to try and get to the bottom of the links between these mysterious deaths meeting a whole cast of characters along the way that are all equally vividly written and add a fascinating historical insight into what life was like during this period for a whole cross section of the population. I find this a fascinating period in history where we are just on the cusp of science and technology taking the place of supersitition and traditional practices and we see the way that this impacts those whose livelihoods were impacted by the ‘progress’ that society was making. Books that involve mediumship in any shape ir form have always fascinated me and this book is no exception – it manages to be eerily credible whilst being nerve shreddingly creepy at the same time and I’m sure I’m not the only one who saw shapes in the darkness in their own homes whilst reading this fascinating and addictive novel.
What Laura Purcell is always so successful at is presenting us with people who are never straightforward and make us think about the truth behind what’s happening in such a multi-layered and compelling way. I would love to see this one of her novels in particular on the big screen and think it would lend itself to a cinematic adaptation that would bring its characters and twists and turns to life just as Agnes does with her subjects through her silhouette creations.
Purcell is a talented and original writer whose characters spring off the page and come to life for you as you try and work out what makes them tick and remember that even though this story is fictional, we are being allowed an opportunity to time travel and experience this part of hisory for ourselves, in glorious technicolour. Agnes’ character is unforgettable – she is a woman in a time where your gender dictated your worth and only by subverting the roles that have been allocated to you can you hope to find a path that allows you to exercise freedoms that we take for granted nowadays.
But don’t think for a second that we’re only looking backwards at history in this novel – Laura Purcell also asks us to take a long hard look at ourselves and think about what we are actually capable of as we read and the notion of judge not, lest ye be judged pervades this entire novel. as we consider what we might have done in the circumstances and what decisions we might have made if we were dropped into this very different world.
The Shape of Darkness is a superb blend of skilful plotting with an unforgettable cast of characters that I’ll be recommending to everyone. It stands out to me due to its deft hand at manipulating our emotions and our sense of moral navigation and the way it keeps us constantly reflective about humanity and the depths we are capable of as we are reading and there is no letting up in the gothic chills and looming sense of dread. I absolutely loved it and it’s definitely left me desperate for my next Spooky Purcell fix and hoping that I don’t have to wait too long for it!
Buy yourself a copy of this fantastic and unique read here, you definitely won’t regret it.
Writer On The Shelf
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.