cover image The House on Vesper Sands

The House on Vesper Sands

Paraic O’Donnell. Tin House, $26.95 (408p) ISBN 978-1-951142-24-7

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. (Jan.)