The House on Vesper Sands

The House on Vesper Sands

by Paraic O'Donnell


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Such a brilliant cast of characters in this fantastical novel! This novel is so rich with description of the setting, it feels like we're living in Victorian England. The fog and snow, at times, had me worrying I'd catch a "death of a cold"—and it would have been worth it! I became engrossed in every character I was introduced to, no matter how brief or extended their stay in the story. Gideon Bliss and Inspector Cutter would have starring roles if there were ever such thing as a "Victorian buddy plot movie." Serious fun in this one!

An Irish Times and Guardian Book of the Year

A January Indie Next Pick

London, 1893: high up in a house on a dark, snowy night, a lone seamstress stands by a window. So begins the swirling, serpentine world of Paraic O’Donnell’s Victorian-inspired mystery, the story of a city cloaked in shadow, but burning with questions: why does the seamstress jump from the window? Why is a cryptic message stitched into her skin? And how is she connected to a rash of missing girls, all of whom seem to have disappeared under similar circumstances?

On the case is Inspector Cutter, a detective as sharp and committed to his work as he is wryly hilarious. Gideon Bliss, a Cambridge dropout in love with one of the missing girls, stumbles into a role as Cutter’s sidekick. And clever young journalist Octavia Hillingdon sees the case as a chance to tell a story that matters—despite her employer’s preference that she stick to a women’s society column. As Inspector Cutter peels back the mystery layer by layer, he leads them all, at last, to the secrets that lie hidden at the house on Vesper Sands.

By turns smart, surprising, and impossible to put down, The House on Vesper Sands offers a glimpse into the strange undertow of late nineteenth-century London and the secrets we all hold inside us.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

★ 11/02/2020

In Irish writer O’Donnell’s stellar historical, his stateside debut, 1893 London is abuzz with stories about the Spiriters, a shadowy group allegedly led by the wealthy Lord Strythe that’s said to steal the souls of working-class women. One winter night, seamstress Esther Tull jumps to her death from a window in Strythe’s home trying to escape from her usual work stitching intricate white gowns to the measurements of women she never sees. After Inspector Cutter of New Scotland Yard unsuccessfully seeks Strythe for questioning about Tull’s death, Cutter connects the case to the plight of former millinery worker Angela Tatton, who speaks deliriously about dark air and brightness and is confined to a hospital. Rev. Herbert Neuilly, who lives in the same boarding house as Cutter, had ministered to Tatton and other poor, sickly, young women. Neuilly, like Strythe, has gone missing, and his nephew, Cambridge divinity student Gideon Bliss, arrives in London concerned for him. Cutter brings Bliss along when he travels to Vesper Sands, the home of Strythe’s only living relation, hoping Strythe is hiding there. There they face mortal danger before learning the truth about the Spiriters. Making smart use of classic gothic imagery, O’Donnell excels at concocting eerie scenes. Yet he’s also very funny, particularly in exchanges between the profane Cutter and the verbose but perceptive Bliss. Fans of Sarah Perry (not to mention Dickens and Wilkie Collins) will be captivated by this marvelous feat. (Jan.)

The Irish Times

"Dickens is whirling enviously in his grave. . . . Read by a fire on a cold winter evening."

Shelf Awareness

"The House on Vesper Sands is not a Sherlock Holmes mystery, but Paraic O'Donnell's sophomore effort is the next best thing. . . . O'Donnell brings his story's humor and darker themes into richly rewarding alignment."

Foreword Reviews

"Chilling. . . . an atmospheric mystery that casts a keen eye on power imbalances and gender inequality."

Benjamin Dreyer

"Riveting. . . . Positively bursts with inventiveness."

Sandra Newman

"Diabolical and delicious, this is the most enjoyable mystery I’ve read in years."

Helen MacDonald

"The House on Vesper Sands manages to do a hundred marvelous things at once: funny, eerie, tender, haunting and unsettling, smokily atmospheric, and fantastically enjoyable."

Sarah Perry

"The most vivid and compelling portrait of late Victorian London since The Crimson Petal and the White."

Liz Nugent

"Like the love child of Dickens and Conan Doyle, but funnier than both."

The Observer

"Tremendously good."

Joanna Cannon

"Clever and funny, and exquisitely disturbing, it is an utter joy."


"Has everything you could want in a novel."

The Guardian

"Part Wilkie Collins, part Conan Doyle."

Kirkus Reviews

An orphan-turned-heiress, a university student, a down-on-his-heels clergyman, an inspector from Scotland Yard, a number of missing girls, and a host of high-society figures collide in this supernatural, gothic mystery.

London, 1893. Octavia Hillingdon might be an heiress, but that's only because she and her brother, Georgie, were adopted by a newspaper magnate and given opportunities that would have otherwise been out of reach. Now, Octavia is a bicycle-riding Victorian lady journalist trying to uncover big stories even as she's limited to reporting on society events and gossipy pieces about the Spiriters by a difficult editor. Elf—that is, the Most Honourable Marquess of Hartington—is her friend and party sidekick, winnowing out gossipy tidbits for her. Gideon Bliss is an exceedingly poor university student in Cambridge who drops everything to rush to London after receiving a cryptic letter from his clergyman uncle about impending danger, yet he secretly hopes to once again meet up with his beloved Angela. The volatile Inspector Cutter handles special cases dealing with the occult at Scotland Yard. The lives of all these characters and more collide over the course of a few days in February: Gideon stumbles upon Angela—wearing a thin white shift and barely lucid—before the altar in an empty church, but he is drugged, she is taken, and he seeks Inspector Cutter’s help. A seamstress jumps to her death from a window of Lord Strythe’s London home, the gentleman himself disappears, and Olivia tries to find out why. Author O’Donnell carefully unspools the gothic creepiness of his story, teasing the reader with tidbits of information that raise more questions than they answer: Just who are the Spiriters? What are they doing with the young girls who go missing? How is the seamstress’s suicide related to the death of the Inspector’s wife? In the end, all the pieces fit together.

An intriguing, unexpected gothic mashup with elements of Dorothy Sayers, Wilkie Collins, and Josephine Tey.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781951142247
Publisher: Tin House Books
Publication date: 01/12/2021
Pages: 408
Sales rank: 114
Product dimensions: 8.60(w) x 5.60(h) x 1.40(d)

Customer Reviews