Publication: 1st Feb 2018 from Hodder Books
‘We have no need to protect ourselves from the bad sort
because we ARE the bad sort . . .’
‘This newspaper has taken note that the past month has been remarkable for the prevalence of cases where men, women and children are declared missing. Scarcely a week passes without the occurrence of an incident of this type’ – The Morning Herald, Tuesday 13 September 1831
Down the murky alleyways of London, acts of unspeakable wickedness are taking place and the city’s vulnerable poor are disappearing 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, dragging them into the blackest heart of a city where something more depraved than either of them could ever imagine is lurking. . .
I’ve been longing for a good historical crime thriller ever since I finished David Mark’s remarkable The Zealot’s Bones, so I was delighted when the rich cover art of The Wicked Cometh reached out to me with its siren call.
It is 1831 and our narrator and protagonist is 18 year old Hester White. Hester grew up with kindly parents in a parsonage in the Lincolnshire Wolds where she was much loved. But her mother died in childbirth and her father succumbed to typhoid fever less than six months later, when Hester was only 11.
The Parsonage reverts back to the Church and Hester has nowhere to go but thankfully, the gardener Jacob and his wife Meg take her in and she moves back to London with them. Now Hester is 18 and the London about which her father told her grand tales is distinctly not the London she is living in with the people she calls her aunt and uncle.
Though Meg and Jacob fared alright for a while, they have now fallen on hard times and they now live amidst squalor and disease in the dark black alleyways of London where they have nothing to be robbed of and no-one to rob them, because this is where the robbers live.
Jacob is a drunk and a womaniser and has lately been looking at Hester in a way that she knows bodes no good. Meg is struggling to get by but every day she has fresh bruises from Jacob’s return home and she has little comfort to offer Hester, who earns pennies from manuscript copying, because at least in her early years she had the benefits of being well educated.
Laura Carlin paints a vivid and picture of poverty squalor and the unsavoury characters that inhabit the streets of the London she lives in. You can smell the streets as Hester describes them, redolent with the pungent aroma of bodies, fetid water and sickness.
Carlin’s writing is Dickensian in its characterisation and narration and her writing conveys a rich and vivid picture of the dodgers and murderers with whom she shares the streets.
Laura knows only too well that the papers have been full of people going missing, for she has been going every day to Smithfield to try and find a distant cousin, Edward who is a drover and who her aunt Meg says she has persuaded to take her and find her work in a dairy house since she can add and subtract as well as read.
But Edward is not to be found and Hester’s hopes are sinking fast when she is run down by a recklessly driven carriage and her leg is badly injured. Fortunately the passenger, Calder Brock, is both kindly and a doctor, and he brings her to his home and sees to her injuries, insisting she stay until she is recovered. When she is feeling better he tells her that, if she wishes, she can come with him to his country home where he has arranged for his sister Rebekah to begin Hester’s education, for he believes her to be an illiterate street child.
Thus we begin Hester’s introduction into the world of the Brocks, who are not at all what they seem to be.
Despite difficult beginnings, Hester and Rebekah strike up a friendship and when Hester learns that Rebekah is concerned about the disappearance of two of the house maids, she finds that that together they can uncover more secrets than either could alone.
Richly evocative, filled with delightful descriptions and dark deeds this is a story that encompasses murder, mystery and love. You can imagine it being played out in one of Dickens’ Penny Dreadfuls, only with a touch of Sarah Waters thrown in.
It is good to see such spirited women being in the forefront of solving the crimes that they encounter, and indeed it is largely women that are to the fore throughout the book.
In true Dickensian fashion, this is a tale told at a leisurely pace with numerous twists and a prolonged and slightly outrageous ending, but this is in keeping with the whole spirit of the novel.
I really enjoyed it.
About Laura Carlin
Laura Carlin left school at 16 to work in retail banking and it was only after leaving her job to write full-time that she discovered her passion for storytelling and exploring pockets of history through fiction. She lives in a book-filled house in beautiful rural Derbyshire with her family (and a very naughty cat). When she’s not writing she enjoys walking in the surrounding Peak District. THE WICKED COMETH is her first novel.