"[An] uncanny Gothic mystery... Satisfying."—New York Times Book Review
"A romping read with a deliciously dark conceit at its center... Reminded me of Alias Grace."—Kiran Millwood Hargrave
From the author of The Silent Companions, a thrilling Victorian gothic horror story about a young seamstress who claims her needle and thread have the power to kill
Dorothea Truelove is young, wealthy, and beautiful. Ruth Butterham is young, poor, and awaiting trial for murder.
When Dorothea's charitable work brings her to Oakgate Prison, she is delighted by the chance to explore her fascination with phrenology and test her hypothesis that the shape of a person's skull can cast a light on their darkest crimes. But when she meets one of the prisoners, the teenaged seamstress Ruth, she is faced with another strange idea: that it is possible to kill with a needle and thread--because Ruth attributes her crimes to a supernatural power inherent in her stitches.
The story Ruth has to tell of her deadly creations—of bitterness and betrayal, of death and dresses—will shake Dorothea's belief in rationality, and the power of redemption. Can Ruth be trusted? Is she mad, or a murderer? For fans of Shirley Jackson, The Poison Thread is a spine-tingling, sinister read about the evil that lurks behind the facade of innocence.
Pairing unreliable narrators from vastly different social classes, Purcell (The Silent Companions) offers a chilling Victorian gothic thriller with supernatural overtones. Heiress Dorothea Truelove continually frustrates her father by spurning advances from "proper" suitors instead, she possesses a clandestine passion for a handsome but socially unsuitable police officer and a not-so-secret fascination with phrenology, the study of the purported relationship between head shape and moral character. Dorothea's research trips to Oakgate Prison introduce her to a young servant, Ruth Butterham, who was recently imprisoned for murdering her mistress. Ruth narrates her personal history to an increasingly horrified Dorothea, revealing that this is only the most recent death of many for which she bears responsibility (with varying degrees of intent). Ruth, a talented seamstress, is convinced that her malice is transformed through her needlework into violence toward a garment's wearer, from a schoolyard bully to her own family members. Meanwhile, Dorothea (whose pseudoscience causes her to harbor secret doubts about her own moral qualities) begins to suspect parallels between Ruth's story and her own. The novel's suspenseful plot is a fittingly knotty one, even if the final strand is a bit too hastily tied off. But what elevates Purcell's novel is its inflection with issues of class, race, gender, and educational inequities, upon which much of the novel's dramatic irony relies. This smart and sophisticated historical thriller will appeal to fans of Sarah Waters's Fingersmith and Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace.