I’ve read a few of this author’s books in the past, but this one left me a little disappointed.
The first quarter of the book added very little to the story: it wasn’t even good or necessary background information. A search on the internet leads me to believe that these pages were tying up the loose ends left from the first book in this series.
Onto the story...
Set in 1758, a preacher’s widow returns to the UK from the US with her young daughter. She takes up residence in St Mary Magdalene’s, a home that aims to reform wayward young girls that have fallen from the straight and narrow. As these girls embrace the Lord and acknowledge the error of their ways they are found positions within the wider community: typically as seamstresses, maids or the like. However, the home’s greatest benefactor runs a tobacco factory and he regularly ‘offers’ the prettier girls positions there. A group of these girls go missing, allegedly having formed a witches’ coven and ritually summoned up Satan himself to help them get away from their new, but unliked, lives.
Widow Scarlet doesn’t believe the story for a minute and seeks to find out the truth. What follows is quite well plotted, where few people are what they first appear and the reader quickly learns to trust none of the characters or their apparent situations.
Whilst many of the things appertaining to the girls are quite believable, prostitution and the like are well documented from this era, I found the actions of the heroine rather far-fetched. Women of this era were unlikely to have had sufficient freedom to do as she does, even if they were a preacher’s widow. For the history buffs amongst us, I think they may well find quite a few questionable points in this tale, though these in no way detract from it.
I feel that the book is overly long at 410 pages: the story could have been told better and much sharper in about half as many pages. I think it may well have flowed better as well in a shorter form. I might also tone down some of the more unsavoury scenes which might just catch the unwary by surprise. The author’s past as a horror writer does manage to shine through!
Please don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad book, it just isn’t a particularly brilliant one, or one of the author’s best: and it just didn’t quite work for me. I just didn’t reach the suspension of my disbelief that fiction authors strive for with their readers. The good lady seems to be enjoying it though.
I can only run to 3 anchors on this one, even though it did have my favourite little ‘extra’, the integral bookmark.