‘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… (Synopsis from publisher)
“My advice is don’t rely on a man to be on time and don’t trust all what the newspapers write in their dailies.”
The Wicked Cometh marks a departure for me – it’s the first time in quite a while that I’ve chosen to read a book that has no hint of fantasy or magic, and is purely historical fiction, albeit with a generous helping of the Gothic. The Wicked Cometh is the kind of historical fiction I enjoy – it doesn’t sugarcoat or glorify the Victorian age, instead it presents a London that is more about the blood and excrement in the back alleys of the busy thoroughfares than the refined drawing rooms of the elite in society. It proclaims to be “a novel of darkest London” and this book goes to some very dark places indeed, with the book opening with its protagonist, a parson’s daughter, now down-and-out, Hester White, asleep in an outside shed with only the ragged clothes she’s wearing as protection against the cold wind of the night that whistles through the slums in which she lives, a slum from which many people are going missing, with no explanation, or concern raised. What emerges from this less than auspicious start, via the fortuitous happenstance of a carriage accident putting Hester in the path of the aristocratic Brocks, is a story about how far it is possible to rise and fall and what nature of crimes both the upper and under classes commit in everyday life. It concerns the question of the period – can the lower classes be educated and, therefore, have a better “value” in the eyes of the government and society at large? These macrocosmic concerns are, naturally, dealt with through the journey of the novel’s protagonist Hester, as she meets some unsavoury characters along the way, in the slums and drawing rooms alike.