Yet another of my book subscription finds this time Willoughby Book Club. And again a book I would probably not pick myself. Not now, at any rate, I did enjoy my share of reading about magic when I was younger. Even though it was before Harry Potter times. And if you can believe this I still haven’t got round to reading Harry Potter!
Anyway, this is probably a very different book to Harry Potter. First of all, it is based in Victorian London. Liz Nugent, in the blurb on the cover, described it as “the love child of Dickens and Conan Doyle, but funnier than both”. Which is spot on.
We’re in the winter of 1893. Gideon Bliss, summoned by his uncle to London from Cambridge, arrives only to find him gone. Desolate and penniless he seeks shelter for the night in a church. There he finds his one-time love, Angie Tatton, lying at the altar, nearly dead. When he regains consciousness in the morning Angie is gone.
That same night at the house of Lord Strythe a seamstress jumps out the window Inspector Cutter of the Scotland Yard is called in. Incidentally, he lives at the same lodgings as Gideon’s uncle. Hence Gideon manages to weasel his way to accompany the Inspector, hoping to later use his help to locate Angie and his uncle.
At the same time Octavia Hillingdon, a young journalist, is tasked with investigating the numerous disappearances of young, poor women. The rumors are growing about mysterious and evil Spiriters.
As you can imagine it all comes together in the end. I enjoyed it a lot as it’s one of those books that transports you into a world that if not safer at least feels simpler. I loved the irascible Inspector Cutter, he made me laugh more than once.
The only thing I would consider changing is the title. The house on Vesper Sands is one of the locations in the book, and yes the climax takes place there. But the house itself plays no role in it. It’s not like Shirley Jackson’s Hill House.
It is not a book that will dramatically change your life in any way. But it is an enjoyable read, with quirky characters and vividly described London. With a very decent plot and some magic thrown into the mix. Given that many countries go through some form of the second lockdown I don’t think it’s the dramatic life-changing reads we need, we need escapism and this is just the ticket with this book.