"The House on Vesper Sands" | Reviewed by Susan Ferguson
“The House on Vesper Sands,” by Paraic O’Donnell,” is a Victorian Gothic mystery set in 1893 London. It is a dark novel that exposes the seedier side of the city, a time of séances and the search of afterlife. It is a macabre story that moved slowly. I could only read this novel in short spurts.
Esther Tull is a seamstress doing private work at night for Lord Strythe. She has arrived at his London home in great pain, having stitched a message into her flesh. Esther has a plan, one not understood as she jumps to her death from the attic window.
We then meet Gideon Bliss a theology student who has left his studies at Cambridge. He has been summoned to London by his uncle, Gideon’s provider since his parents’ death. When he arrives at his uncle’s, there is no one there. Gideon has no money so he takes shelter from the wintery night in a nearby church. He hears a woman whimpering and finds Angie Tatton, a girl he once knew and cared about. Angie is not well and is muttering about Spiriters. Before Gideon can help he is knocked out; when he regains consciousness Angie is gone, kidnapped.
When Gideon returns to his uncle’s apartment, his uncle is still missing but he meets one of the residents, Inspector Cutter, a detective from Scotland Yard who has been assigned to investigate Esther Tull’s death and a rash of missing young girls. Gideon acts like the deputy that Inspector Cutter has been expecting. Gideon convinces Cutter that Angie Tatton is now another girl who has disappeared. Together they work to solve the mysteries.
Another important character is journalist, Octavia Hillington. Octavia is determined to investigate the rumors of Spiriters (a group that claims to steal souls). She is sure that Lord Strythe is involved, especially since he has disappeared after Esther’s death. The two stories spin along separately but finally intertwine when they all arrive at Lord Strythe’s house on Vesper Sands, finally answering questions for readers.
There is mystery and a twist in this dark novel along with some humorous dialogue between Inspector Cutter and Gideon Bliss. This humorous dialogue kept me reading. But like Inspector Cutter, Bliss’s constant ramblings drove me crazy.