When well-to-do Hester learns of her sister Mercy’s death at a Nottinghamshire workhouse, she travels to Southwell to find out how her sister ended up at such a place.
Haunted by her sister’s ghost, Hester sets out to uncover the truth, when the official story reported by the workhouse master proves to be untrue. Mercy was pregnant – both her and the baby are said to be dead of cholera, but the workhouse hasn’t had an outbreak for years.
Hester discovers a strange trend in the workhouse of children going missing. One woman tells her about the Pale Lady, a ghostly figure that steals babies in the night. Is this lady a myth or is something more sinister afoot at the Southwell poorhouse?
As Hester investigates, she uncovers a conspiracy, one that someone is determined to keep a secret, no matter the cost…
I really enjoy books like ‘The Shadowing’, firstly because of the historical setting (we have a sinister workhouse to unpick); secondly, the gothic atmosphere, and thirdly the author is clearly a great storyteller.
Our protagonist is Hester, who is introduced to the reader whilst suffering in the throes of a nightmare wrapped around by mensural pain; we soon learn she is living under the patriarchy of her father. What’s also soon clear, is that Hester has visions of the departed, of shadows and spirits: the dead. Her long-long sister Mercy appears and Hester knows that bad news is approaching. The story develops quickly and the family receive a letter that Mercy has indeed died at a place called the Southwell Union Workhouse, and she has died a pauper.
This book’s central mystery involves what actually happened to Mercy, how she ended up in a workhouse and dying a pauper. Hester becomes obsessed with finding out the truth and this is the hook of the narrative. I really enjoyed the historical setting coming alive, as Hester battles relentlessly to find out the truth and put her sister’s shadow to rest.
There’s a great, creepy atmosphere at Southwell, and I was reminded of Daphine Du Maurier’s world of shady characters, foreboding inns, untrustworthy characters, and ghostly, gothic undertones. It’s a world where, Hester, our strong – albeit a little naïve lead character fights to stand up for her sister and those trying to stop her. I also enjoyed the addition of Matthew, a grouchy, dismissive landlord of a coaching inn, who develops and become a more central part of the narrative; he also provides the dash of romance, and I do mean dash.
I thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Shadowing’ and would highly recommend it.