BookBrowse Reviews The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O'Donnell

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The House on Vesper Sands

by Paraic O'Donnell

The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O'Donnell X
The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O'Donnell
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jan 2021, 408 pages

    Paperback:
    Jan 2022, 408 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Rachel Hullett
Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


Set in 1893, The House on Vesper Sands is a neo-Victorian murder mystery involving the death of a seamstress and a series of mysterious disappearances, investigated by the acerbic Inspector Cutter and his amateur assistant Gideon Bliss.

When The House on Vesper Sands begins, the reader meets Esther Tull, a seamstress reporting to her employer's house on a wintry night in London, 1893. By chapter's end she has sewn a cryptic message into her skin ("MY SOUL DOTH MAGNIFY THE LORD") and jumped to her death from a second-story window. The narrative then shifts to Gideon Bliss, a young theology student from Cambridge. Gideon has just arrived in London to meet with his uncle, only to discover that he has mysteriously vanished.

Enter Inspector Cutter, an irascible Scotland Yard detective who lives in the same boarding house as Gideon's uncle. Cutter is assigned to investigate the death of Esther Tull, and Gideon, tagging along under the pretense of being a sergeant in training, accompanies him with an agenda of his own. He wants to get to the bottom of his uncle's disappearance, but also that of Angela Tatton, a young woman with whom he is enamored and who he believes to have been kidnapped. The two men embark on an investigation that leads them inexorably to the titular house on Vesper Sands — the remote countryside residence of Lord Strythe (Esther Tull's employer), who may have something to do with a recent series of deaths and kidnappings around London.

The dynamic between Gideon and Cutter is this book's shining jewel: their dialogue is witty and droll — Cutter being a man of few words and Gideon being a man of far too many, a characterization in line with his academic background. The older, bitter, hardened Cutter proves a worthwhile foil to the youthful, romantic Gideon, and the pair's evolving dynamic provides the novel with its emotional center. O'Donnell's humorous dialogue also counterbalances the novel's inherently dark nature, and this contrast between gravity and levity is managed expertly.

The novel's primary weakness, on the other hand, is that O'Donnell stretches his plot too thin, needlessly incorporating a parallel plotline that focuses on Octavia, a female journalist intent on writing something more serious than the frivolous pieces she is usually assigned. While Octavia's research into the dark underbelly of London dovetails with Gideon and Cutter's investigation, the inclusion of her character never fully justifies itself, and only serves to lengthen a book that arguably would have been stronger were it shorter and snappier. Octavia fails to come to life as Cutter and Bliss do; her desire to be taken seriously at work by her male colleagues reads as a generic, impersonal conflict.

However, despite its somewhat sprawling structure, the novel does largely sustain the reader's interest. O'Donnell also incorporates a supernatural element into the plot, which could potentially disappoint those looking for a cut-and-dry murder mystery, but it does serve to add an interesting narrative and thematic layer. The author also successfully paints a portrait of the dark side of Victorian London that is destined to entertain anyone who enjoys neo-Victorian, London-set novels such as Michel Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White or Laura Carlin's The Wicked Cometh. It's a rather slow-paced book, though this isn't a criticism; exposition is handled carefully, and the reader doesn't reach the titular Vesper Sands for much longer than they might expect. However, with a tightly plotted dénouement, it's worth the wait, and a reliably entertaining journey as it all unfolds.

Reviewed by Rachel Hullett

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in January 2021, and has been updated for the February 2022 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $39 for 12 months or $12 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

and discover exceptional books
for just $3.25 per month.

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket
    The Personal Librarian
    by Marie Benedict, Victoria Christopher Murray
    The Personal Librarian drew a robust positive response from our First Impressions reviewers, ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Book Woman's Daughter
    by Kim Michele Richardson
    Kim Michele Richardson's The Book Woman's Daughter follows Honey Lovett, 16-year-old daughter of ...
  • Book Jacket: Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting
    Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting
    by Clare Pooley
    For the many years that I've been reading, one realization has always come to mind for me after ...
  • Book Jacket: We Had to Remove This Post
    We Had to Remove This Post
    by Hanna Bervoets
    It's not about money. Kayleigh, the protagonist and narrator of We Had to Remove This Post, a newly ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
Hamnet
by Maggie O'Farrell
"Of all the stories...about Shakespeare’s life, [Hamnet] is so gorgeously written that it transports you."
The Boston Globe

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Jackie & Me
    by Louis Bayard

    Master storyteller Louis Bayard delivers a surprising portrait of a young Jackie Kennedy as we've never seen her before.

  • Book Jacket

    One's Company
    by Ashley Hutson

    For readers of Ottessa Moshfegh this fearless debut chronicles one woman's escape into a world of obsessive imagination.

Win This Book!
Win Where the Crawdads Sing

Win a signed copy of Where the Crawdads Sing

In celebration of the movie release on July 15, we have three signed copies to give away.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

T O Thing W H T F I F I

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.