cover image The Shape of Darkness

The Shape of Darkness

Laura Purcell. Penguin Books, $17 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-14-313554-8

A Victorian silhouette artist investigates a mystery with the help of a medium in the suspenseful latest from Purcell (The House of Whispers). With photography rapidly supplanting the art of the silhouette, Agnes Darken is barely making ends meet in Bath, England. Then a client is murdered immediately after sitting for her, and another is found drowned nearby. Agnes fears the deaths are related and becomes overwhelmed with guilt, believing her “gaze has cast a shadow over them.” Her doctor brother-in-law, Simon Carfax, dismisses her concerns, but more of Agnes’s clients successively wind up dead. Purcell shifts point of view between Agnes and Pearl Meers, a half-starved 11-year-old living in the poorer part of Bath who possesses the ability to channel the dead. Pearl’s half-sister, Myrtle, is a mesmerist intent on maximizing profits from her sister’s “gift.” Eventually, the three meet and Agnes forms a pact with Pearl: Agnes will ask Simon to help Pearl’s father (dying horribly from phosphorus poisoning) if Pearl will help her find answers about who is killing her clients and why. What the two unearth leads to a shocking ending. Purcell convincingly describes the grime and poverty in Bath, an appropriate backdrop to the story’s tragedy and horror. Fans of gothic fiction will devour this. (June)