“The Shape Of Darkness”, by Laura Purcell

The Shape Of Darkness

“The Shape Of Darkness” takes place in Victorian Bath.

Silhouette artist Agnes Darken is struggling to keep body and soul together. The dawn of photography means her art is viewed as old-fashioned, and is falling out of favour.

Abandoned by a previous suitor, and with an elderly mother and orphaned nephew to support, Agnes must keep working.

Although a mysterious accident in the recent past has left her health in a precarious state . . .

Shortly after a sitting, a visit from the police confirms that one of Agnes’ clients has been found dead — murdered. And then another. And then another. What is going on? Who is targeting Agnes and her business, and why?

In desperation, Agnes seeks help. She asks child medium Pearl to contact the deceased, in order that the mystery behind their untimely deaths may be solved. Can Pearl contact the victims before another murder can take place? Or is it possible for the identity of the murderer to be revealed?

Like Agnes, Pearl and her streetwise half-sister, Myrtle, must support their family — in their case, Pearl’s father, who suffers from ‘phossy jaw’, an upsetting disease caused by unsafe working practices which were common at that time. Just as Agnes is haunted by the events of the past, so are the half-sisters . . .

Superbly atmospheric writing

What superbly atmospheric writing, with a sense of unease permeating proceedings from the off. A slowly-unravelling backstory creates a feeling of tension, and as both Agnes and Pearl attempt to form shapes from the darkness in their lives, we learn the true nature of past events.

Early Victorian life, with all its hurdles for single women and strict moral codes, is presented in its grim reality, and there’s a strong feeling of one era making way for another, as the old ways begin to fade.

I must say that usually, if I see the words “gothic thriller” (or “dystopian”) anywhere near a novel, I tend to avoid, but I’m so glad I decided to step out of my comfort zone and give this a go.

Dark, and difficult to put down, enthralling and unpredictable, it’ll keep you guessing right up until the last minute. And possibly even beyond.

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Fiction Editor Lucy is always on the look-out for the very best short stories, poems and pocket novels. As well as sourcing enjoyable content, she enjoys working with our established contributors, encouraging new talent, and celebrating 150 years of 'Friend' fiction!