In the dark alleyways of London, in 1831, people are disappearing; the vulnerable poor, children, elderly, homeless. Missing posters line the streets. But none are found. The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin is a 19th century crime thriller with two women, divided by class and background, who are determined to find the truth but who never once suspect the depth of wickedness they will uncover.
When 18-year old Hester White is hit by a carriage, physician Calder Brock takes her to his London home. Cared for by his servants, he questions Hester about her birth. Ashamed of her bad luck – growing up at a country parsonage, she was orphaned and taken in by her parents’ servants whose own income declined so now they live in an East End slum – Hester hides her education with a deftly-adopted London accent. Brock rescues her as an experiment in educating the poor. He takes Hester to Waterford, his childhood home in the country, where he lives with his sister Rebekah and their Uncle Septimus. Rebekah is to be Hester’s tutor. What follows is a story of lies laid upon more lies, murder, theft, friendship and love. As the women set out to discover what happened to Hester’s missing cousin, and two servants who worked for Rebekah, they enter into an underworld neither guessed exists. Being female hinders their attempts to investigate and they put themselves into increasingly dangerous situations in their efforts to gather evidence.
This is a melodramatic rollercoaster which in places grew so convoluted that I at first re-read passages, but then simply skipped paragraphs. It would benefit from some robust editing. At its heart is a gruesome Victorian murder mystery and the love of two women. The answer to the mystery that Hester and Rebekah set out to solve – and I started with high hopes of the two female investigators – is perhaps predictable but the details are dense and colourful though at times needlessly confusing. Some of the descriptions are unbelievably gory, unnecessarily so.
There are two endings, difficult to describe without giving spoilers. Suffice to say I found the final ending unsatisfactory; too neat and tidy for me. The part of the book I enjoyed the most was the beginning, with the development of Hester’s character, her stop-start relationship with Rebekah, and the whispers that unsettle Hester so she doesn’t know who to trust. The London setting is well-written; the filth so real you can smell it. The medical detail is gruesome so be warned, a few pages require a strong stomach. Another positive is the two strong female protagonists. I particularly liked Rebekah. All of this is well done. What let it down for me? It simply didn’t hold my attention in places.
‘The Wicked Cometh’ by Laura Carlin [UK: Hodder & Stoughton]
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