Well, I read this one in twenty-four hours flat! I picked it up, meaning to read a few pages and return to it later, but was completely and utterly hooked. I ended up reading the last half in the evening without realising it had got dark outside until I hit the last page. And reading this book while sitting in the dark is not really a good idea!
The Silent Companions is a deliciously gothic mystery/horror with a dual timeline - Victorian England and the reign of Charles I. The story starts with a new doctor meeting one of the patients at St Joseph's Hospital for the Insane. The patient is mute so she writes down the events that led to her incarceration a year ago. We then switch to Elsie Bainbridge, newly married, newly widowed, arriving at her husband's crumbling ancestral home to wait for her baby to be born. She's also running from scandal - her husband was wealthy and the whispers about whether or not his death was natural have already started. Although escorted by her younger brother, he soon leaves her in the company of a few resentful servants and her husband's widowed cousin, Sarah. When Elsie and Sarah explore the house they find two wooden props, skillfully painted to look like children, hidden away in a locked garret: a girl and a gypsy boy - and the girl looks just like Elsie...
As you will have already worked out, I found The Silent Companions absolutely gripping. It's very well-written and very fast-paced - unusual for this kind of novel. Something happens on practically every page and the clever thing is that until almost the very end you are never quite sure whether Elsie is imagining everything that happens, or if she's being 'Gaslighted', or if there really was something evil locked up in that garret.
One of my favourite reads this year. Recommended, particularly if you love authors such as Shirley Jackson and Daphne du Maurier, stories like The Turn of the Screw and The Woman in Black - and terrifying yourself half to death on a dark autumn evening!
Thank you to Laura Purcell, Raven Books/Bloomsbury, and Netgalley for my copy of this book, which I received in exchange for an honest review.
If you're curious as to what a 'silent companion' actually looks like, you'll find pictures on the author's Pinterest page.