Disappearing is the most common act in the slums, an art form in itself. Faces become countless names that linger before fading into shadows. Going missing where no one is missed, questions laced with fear, whispers in the wind. Something wicked is out there and, as luck would have it, someone is keeping tabs.
Hester White was dragged into the harsh corners of the city by the sudden death of her beloved parents. A bright and well-educated young woman, she managed to learn how to navigate the tainted cobblestones with practiced ease.
It’s during one of her regular jaunts that luck strikes her in the most painful of ways.
It all starts with an accident.
Hester is out looking for her missing cousin, her one-way ticket out of the dreadful situation she finds herself in, when a carriage veers onto the pathway. The passenger is none other than Calder Brock, a reputable physician. Quickly assessing the situation, Calder decides to take Hester, whom he believes to be just another lost soul, under his wing.
Playing the part without fault, Hester sees her injury heal into a miracle that leads her to Waterford Hall, the country estate where she meets Rebekah Brock, the woman who would change her life – for the better, the worse and back again.
There is no doubt that Laura Carlin is a skilled writer. Her tone is particularly evocative; instead of acting as a guide into the story, her words seem to grow into images in an immersive spiral that has the reader at the epicenter. It’s an incredibly palpable and atmospheric experience, a feast for the senses.
As for the storyline, it seems to develop in three main stages. The first part feels like a promising character study, spreading just enough doubt about the Brock family and their eccentricities to have the reader intrigued. Then comes the romance, a segment culminating in diary entries that unfortunately seem to dissolve much of the endearing ambiguity and secrecy of the narrative. At last, the post-diary is all about unexpected twists and bewildering turns.
The novel would have achieved much more had it ended with the unfolding of the web of secrets, what followed edging beyond the melodramatic and landing on implausibility. It seems like the author strived to tackle quite a mesh of triggering elements, creating an uneven narrative that resonates at points and frustrates at others.
Exceptional at times, particularly in the texture of its historical layer, “The Wicked Cometh” by Laura Carlin delivers an enthralling mystery. While the way the relationship matured felt like a bit of a hindrance, the puzzle at the core of the novel had me on the edge of my seat from the beginning – and it didn’t disappoint! A perfect full circle.
Would recommend to readers who enjoy Sarah Waters and the followers of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.
The Book Club will be joined by author Rachel Heng to discuss her new book 'Suicide Club' on Tuesday 13th March. Book in and pick up your copy.