“Bone China” by Laura Purcell

bone china

Apparently there’s something in the water – I couldn’t help but chuckle when I saw Fiction Ed Lucy had recently reviewed Laura Purcell’s latest book “The Shape of Darkness”, when my most recent read was “Bone China” by the same author.

I do, in fact, have “The Shape of Darkness” on hold from the library as we speak.

It’s been a while since I’ve found an author whose releases I follow ardently. But that changed when I stumbled across “The Corset” in the depths of the library last summer.

Her novels have become somewhat of an on-going love affair for me.

A lady’s maid leaves London under a dark cloud, with an assumed name and a stolen snuff box hidden in her luggage. And things only get stranger from there . . .

“Bone China” throws us right into the action.

Hester Why is making her way to Cornwall on an omnibus, when a man is thrown from the carriage.

Daughter of a midwife, Hester is a skilled healer, and endeavours to save the man’s life – and his badly broken leg.

However, to do this she sacrifices something that is very dear to her – the gin in her hipflask.

Her job will not be an easy one

When she finally arrives at the windswept Morvoren House on the wild Cornish coast, she’s immediately struck by the overly familiar dynamics of the servants, and perplexed by the strange superstitions of the household – in particular the old nursemaid Creeda.

Hester soon learns that her job will not be an easy one.

Her charge, the elderly Louise Pinecroft, is a very peculiar and disturbed woman. The victim of multiple strokes, Louise spends every day sitting and staring at her collections of fine bone china. She is afraid to even go to her bed at night, for reasons that aren’t apparent to Hester.

Luckily for us, we’re about to discover more about the mysterious proprietor of Morvoren House.

Forty years before Hester’s arrival, twenty-year-old Louise Pinecroft arrives to Morvoren with her father – a brilliant doctor. Their family has been ravaged by consumption, and they are the last two standing.

Doctor Pinecroft has a wild new plan to cure consumption. He also must help Creeda – the daughter of a Plymouth china manufacturer. The girl is obsessed with folklore, thanks to a trauma in her past.

By gathering five consumptive prisoners from Bodmin prison and sequestering them in caves on the wild Cornish coast, he believes he can cure what was then considered an incurable illness.

In both timelines, very strange things begin to happen, and tempers fray. Creeda has her own theories about the malevolent cause . . . and it’s not ghosts.

Really manages to keep you hooked

“Bone China” was yet another disquieting mystery. It makes full use of its evocative setting and time period and really manages to keep you hooked in and invested.

Purcell perfectly captures the tension between superstition and science in both timelines by setting the forward thinking doctor and the sceptical Hester against the off-kilter Creeda.

Once again, her cast of characters was delightful. They’re fascinating, and written with a lot of care to fit them into their time periods. Laura is really great at writing characters who do not necessarily have to be likeable to be incredibly compelling.

My favourite thing, however, would still have to be the way that she takes tired horror tropes, sets them in historical settings, and still manages to carve them into something fresh.

World-weary alcoholic main characters are another cliché.

But the novel handles Hester’s reliance on gin and laudanum tactfully. Plus, the Regency setting made it an unexpected avenue to explore.

Especially when set against the wider questions around madness and medicine that permeate both timelines.

It’s a less outright scary offering than “The Silent Companions”. But the writing is wonderfully atmospheric.

And I greatly enjoyed the slow creep of dread.

That, and the very unique cause of the spooks made this an incredibly readable and enjoyable novel.

For more book reviews from the “Friend” team, click here.

Kirsty Souter