Wednesday, 28 March 2018

The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett, author of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, The Land Beyond Goodbye and Don’t Look Down (

What We Thought: When clergyman’s daughter, Hester White is orphaned she is taken in by her parents’ gardener Joe and his wife Meg. However, Joe and Meg struggle to find another position and sink ever deeper into the mire of poverty. At 17, Hester is scraping a living with them in a clay-floored room in East London. It is 1831 and fear stalks the streets as people go missing and are never heard from again. A cousin of Hester’s, whom she had hoped would help her rise out of her wretchedness, disappears, along with her friend Annie.

When Hester is run over by a carriage, the doctor who owns it takes her in to treat her damaged leg. Calder Brock is an amiable gentleman and allows her to stay in his London home until she is well. After that, he packs her off to his Uncle Septimus’s country residence at Waterford Hall He arranges for his sister Rebekah to teach Hester in an experiment to prove the lower orders can learn. Hester has already been educated up to the time when her parents died but pretends she is untutored in order to remain at Waterford. She discovers that two maids have disappeared from the household and that Rebekah is looking into their disappearance.

Hester becomes fond of Rebekah and allows herself to believe Rebekah has feelings for her too but when she overhears a conversation about sending her to the “dicity” – the Mendicity Society, who will likely ship her to Australia – she runs away.

Back in London things turn very dark. Hester is pursued by two rough-looking men and is fearful for her life. She manages to hook up with Rebekah again, and the pair investigate the various disappearances. The plot leads through various byways and seeming coincidences and convolutions. The New Metropolitan Police force is involved but, of course, it is the women themselves who hunt out the baddies.

There is a major coincidence in the plot but if that is overlooked then this is a good read. The writing is by turns lyrical and gruesome, sometimes conveying the poetry of the natural world and sometimes the degradation of poverty and cruelty. The relationship between Hester and Rebekah is conveyed with great sensitivity. A good Gothic read.

You’ll enjoy this if you like:
Sarah Waters, Emma Donoghue.

Avoid if you dislike: Coincidences.

Ideal accompaniments: A strong stomach at times.

Genre: Historical/LGBT

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