The House on Vesper Sands has all of the hallmarks of a Victorian throw-back; mazes of manners, decrepit mansions, and gin-soaked police populate a scuzzy world of destitute working girls, complicated family histories, and genteel young men all-aflutter.
The Spiritualist movement is in full-swing and a cloaked and creepy group of “Spiriters” may be responsible for a rash of disappearances amongst the derelict waifs of the workhouse. There are shades of From Hell and other modern takes soaking the pages, and I was briefly worried early on that we were in for another Jack the Ripper rag when characters were being shepherded off to investigate in Whitechapel. Luckily that worry was in vain; the mystery culprit of those murders does not play at all within the mysteries of this novel.
“I don’t believe in angels, Miss Hillingdon. Why should I start believing in devils?”
The supernatural whispers and winds around our three protagonists; and they all approach it with a stiff upper lip and an eye for the curious. Unfortunately, we don’t see many of these ideas and hunts through their eyes; they tell us word-for-word exactly what they are thinking, doing, seeing, and saying. The presentation of action is almost operatic; our three protagonists all belong to the school of “park and bark”. A gruff but curious detective, a plucky bicycle-riding female reporter (BIG shades of gothic girl scout. Please sir, gimme a chance to write about MORE than balls and society!), and a hopelessly besotted young divinity student shout monologues at each other on nearly every single page. If, for some reason, one of these characters is incapacitated, then their thoughts and actions will still be broadcast to the reader through pages of articles written or crime-scene notes taken. It would be exhausting if it weren’t for the chapter-ending “zinger” moments that keep the creep factor cranked up high.
The monologuing goes over the edge within the last 100 of this 400 page book; nearly the entire final quarter is weirdos, side characters, and villains giving their “this is how I did it, and I’ll do it to you too!” speeches with guns trained (sometimes literally) on captive audiences. The silliness of it all propelled the final hours into a Crimson Peak-esque melodrama wrapped in moldering black lace. The bones of something stark and creepy rest somewhere within this story; it feels like a screenplay stretched into a book, or perhaps a series was planned but combined into one tome instead. There are moments of pure horror, but you’ll have to dig through a good deal of hot air to find them.
I received this ARC from the Tin House Galley Club in exchange for a fair and honest review