Name: The Wicked Cometh
Author: Laura Carlin
Number of Pages: 352 (Hardback)
Published: February 1st 2018 by Hodder & Stoughton
Genre: Historical, Mystery
The year is 1831
Down the murky alleyways of London, acts of unspeakable wickedness are taking place and no one is willing to speak out on behalf of the city’s vulnerable poor as they disappear from the streets.
Out of these shadows comes Hester White, a bright young woman who is desperate to escape the slums by any means possible.
When Hester is thrust into the world of the aristocratic Brock family, she leaps at the chance to improve her station in life under the tutelage of the fiercely intelligent and mysterious Rebekah Brock. But whispers from her past slowly begin to poison her new life and both she and Rebekah are lured into the most sinister of investigations.
Hester and Rebekah find themselves crossing every boundary they’ve ever known in pursuit of truth, redemption and passion. But their trust in each other will be tested as a web of deceit begins to unspool, dragging them into the blackest heart of a city where something more depraved than either of them could ever imagine is lurking . . . – from Goodreads
People are vanishing without trace.
Men, women, children, apparently no one is safe.
Hester White was born to a reasonably well-situated family but after a series of tragedies Hester has fallen on hard times. Gone are the days of a peaceful life at her father’s parsonage; she now resides with ‘Uncle’ Jacob and ‘Aunt’ Meg, her father’s former employees. Home is down a pokey little alley leading onto a yard with a cellar room. It sounds so grim, as does so much of Hester’s London.
Hester is set on escape; her hopes are pinned on her cousin arriving and arranging a job as a dairymaid. However, she’s been waiting a long time, and fate throws another option her way after a run in with a horse drawn carriage belonging to Mr Calder Brock.
Seeing a new potential means of escape, Hester remains quiet about her true background in order that she can accept his offer of betterment.
Hester receives tuition from Calder’s sister, Rebekah, a woman surrounded by rumour and an air of intrigue, for it’s not only in London in general that people are disappearing. Two of the Brocks’ servants have also inexplicably vanished, and those who remain are understandably worried.
Where are these people going? Is someone taking them, and if so, to what end? There’s a mystery at the heart of the story, and Rebekah and Hester find themselves drawn into solving it.
There’s a wonderful gothic, eerie and grim air around the London created within these pages. Dark, dank, stinking alleyways, danger lurking around every corner, death and disease, and that’s before people start disappearing. The echoing footsteps as Hester is trailed, the grubby-floored cellar room in which Hester has been living with her ‘family’ are all bought vividly to life.
In the early stages of the story there’s a hint of My Fair Lady, (Hester would ‘stay at Waterford until spring, when Calder will present both you and his findings to the committee of the Society’) andd a little something of Jane Eyre – the orphan going to the great house, the charismatic lady vanishing only to return with a house-party of guests and behave in a cold manner, a flight into the unknown, and I really loved all that. It almost makes you feel like you’re reading a book from times gone by.
The relationship between Hester and Rebekah is a slow-burning romance as, after some initial reluctance on Rebekah’s part, they find their daily lessons progress to friendship, both anticipating the moments they will spend together in the library. Circumstances of course conspire to tear them apart but will they manage to find each other again?
There’s a colourful cast of characters, from the ‘bad’ lot surrounding Hester’s cellar room dwelling, to the possibly worse lot who reside in the grand houses of town and country. The wicked of the title aren’t necessarily where you anticipate them to be.
The story begins at a leisurely pace, which I really enjoyed, and picks up around half way through when Hester and Rebekah find themselves drawn into something far darker than they could ever have imagined. The wicked of the title, when the truth is finally revealed, are very wicked indeed, and what starts out as an innocent enough tale delves into the macabre, with a couple of pretty grisly moments, during which I wondered if or how Hester and Rebekah could possibly escape.
I really enjoyed The Wicked Cometh, and will look out for the next book by Laura Carlin.