27 September 2023

The Whispering Muse

Start the conversation

Reviewed by Robert Goodman.

By Laura Purcell, Bloomsbury, $32.99.

Laura Purcell specialises in Victorian gothic horror. Her debut The Silent Companions dealt with eerie wooden dolls and her last book The Shape of Darkness traded in silhouettes and shadows. Her latest, The Whispering Muse, takes readers to the theatre in nineteenth century London, a milieu already infused with plenty of superstition.

Jennifer Wilcox knows when an offer is too good to be true. But she has recently lost her job due to the actions of her brother and has a family to support. So when Mrs Dyer, the wife of the owner of the theatre where her brother worked, asks her to work there as a dresser and spy on Lilith, the new leading lady, Jennifer is not in a position to refuse. Rumours abound of people making deals with the muse of tragedy – Melpomene – including an ascendant Lilith. And soon strange things start to happen in the theatre including a series of bizarre accidents. Jennifer soon realises that while she may have made a bad deal with Mrs Dyer, Lilith may have made an even more worrisome trade.

The Whispering Muse is straight out gothic horror – full of things going bump in the dark, strange violent deaths and portents of doom. But as with all of Purcell’s books it is grounded in the melodrama of human interaction – Jennifer’s relationship with her wastrel brother, Mrs Dyer’s jealousy of Lilith, the grasping need to be number one on the call sheet. In amongst this Purcell effectively captures the dark, grimy, gaslit atmosphere of London in the nineteenth century. All of these elements come together to provide another deliciously creepy, gothic thriller.

Over 900 more book reviews can be found on Pile by the Bed.

Start the conversation

Be among the first to get all the Public Sector and Defence news and views that matter.

Subscribe now and receive the latest news, delivered free to your inbox.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.