The House on Vesper Sands
An Oprah Daily and CrimeReads Best Historical Novel of 2021
Named a Library Reads Pick, Apple Books' Best Book, Amazon Fiction & Literature's “Best of the Month,” and a Powell's Pick
The Millions' Top Ten Book of the Month
“Funny, eerie, tender, haunting and unsettling, smokily atmospheric, and fantastically enjoyable.” —Helen Macdonald, author of Vesper Flights
London, 1893: high up in a house on a dark, snowy night, a lone seamstress stands by a window. So begins the swirling, serpentine world of Paraic O’Donnell’s Victorian-inspired mystery, the story of a city cloaked in shadow, but burning with questions: why does the seamstress jump from the window? Why is a cryptic message stitched into her skin? And how is she connected to a rash of missing girls, all of whom seem to have disappeared under similar circumstances?
On the case is Inspector Cutter, a detective as sharp and committed to his work as he is wryly hilarious. Gideon Bliss, a Cambridge dropout in love with one of the missing girls, stumbles into a role as Cutter’s sidekick. And clever young journalist Octavia Hillingdon sees the case as a chance to tell a story that matters—despite her employer’s preference that she stick to a women’s society column. As Inspector Cutter peels back the mystery layer by layer, he leads them all, at last, to the secrets that lie hidden at the house on Vesper Sands.
By turns smart, surprising, and impossible to put down, The House on Vesper Sands offers a glimpse into the strange undertow of late nineteenth-century London and the secrets we all hold inside us.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
From the moment this thriller kicked off, we knew we were in for icy Gothic chills. Young women are disappearing from the streets of Victorian London at an alarming rate, and grisly aspects of the crimes are beginning to cast them in a frightening supernatural light. The city’s working people are going into a panic, and divinity school dropout Gideon Bliss is among them—especially since his would-be paramour, Angela, has just disappeared. Author Paraic O’Donnell draws us right into an irresistibly dark mystery set in a city still reeling from Jack the Ripper’s deadly run. As Gideon sets out to uncover the truth, he meets a bunch of intriguing characters, from surly and sarcastic Inspector Cutter to muckraking reporter Olivia Hillingdon. Light the gaslights (okay, LED candles) and prepare to read this haunting mystery late into the night. Once The House on Vesper Sands latches on to you, you won’t want it to let go.
In Irish writer O'Donnell's stellar historical, his stateside debut, 1893 London is abuzz with stories about the Spiriters, a shadowy group allegedly led by the wealthy Lord Strythe that's said to steal the souls of working-class women. One winter night, seamstress Esther Tull jumps to her death from a window in Strythe's home trying to escape from her usual work stitching intricate white gowns to the measurements of women she never sees. After Inspector Cutter of New Scotland Yard unsuccessfully seeks Strythe for questioning about Tull's death, Cutter connects the case to the plight of former millinery worker Angela Tatton, who speaks deliriously about dark air and brightness and is confined to a hospital. Rev. Herbert Neuilly, who lives in the same boarding house as Cutter, had ministered to Tatton and other poor, sickly, young women. Neuilly, like Strythe, has gone missing, and his nephew, Cambridge divinity student Gideon Bliss, arrives in London concerned for him. Cutter brings Bliss along when he travels to Vesper Sands, the home of Strythe's only living relation, hoping Strythe is hiding there. There they face mortal danger before learning the truth about the Spiriters. Making smart use of classic gothic imagery, O'Donnell excels at concocting eerie scenes. Yet he's also very funny, particularly in exchanges between the profane Cutter and the verbose but perceptive Bliss. Fans of Sarah Perry (not to mention Dickens and Wilkie Collins) will be captivated by this marvelous feat.
The House on Vesper Sands
This book would make a great movie. However, I found it hard to read (and I read a lot), but kept on cuz I needed to know how it ended.
I could not stop reading this book. I was late to work because of it. I lost sleep because of it. I fell in love with the unusual and not particularly lovable characters. I can’t recommend it enough.