cover image The House of Whispers

The House of Whispers

Laura Purcell. Penguin, $17 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-14-313553-1

Purcell (The Poison Thread) tantalizes with a skillful juxtaposition of nascent science and entrenched folk belief in this brooding period gothic. In the early 19th century, a maid going by the alias Hester Why has fled her employ in London under an unexplained dark cloud to serve as nursemaid to elderly spinster Louise Pinecroft, owner of Morvoren House on the remote Cornish coast. Hester soon discovers that the members of Louise’s household believe fairy changelings have a foothold among Morvoren’s personnel. That superstition, as it develops, channels directly back to Louise’s work with her physician father 40 years earlier, and his efforts to cure tubercular patients with primitive medicine in the region’s fairy-haunted caves. Its grave impact on Dr. Pinecroft’s confidence as a man of reason and the doubts it raises in him about his efficacy as a physician set the stage for the dramas that have festered into the novel’s present, and mirror the dangerous conditions Hester fled in London. Purcell paints a colorful portrait of her tale’s distant time and place and immerses the reader in an era when superstition was a tenacious thread in the social fabric that bound its people. Her tale of secret guilt and atoning for it through ancient customs will please fans of classic gothic melodrama.