Rhiannon Ward - The Shadowing
"...an addictive read of the old tradition... "
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...
Ward treats us to another mix of crime with a dash of the supernatural. The ghostly visions – or 'shadowings' as Hester has come to name them, are subtle, giving us that hint of the otherworld. Ward's second novel in this genre is a definite homage to those who practised the art of the ghost story – James, le Fanu, Blackwood and not forgetting the women – Amelia B. Edwards, E. Nesbit, Edith Wharton, Rosemary Timperley. In recent years there have been supernatural tales from Ruth Rendell, Celia Fremlin and Antonia Fraser. Thankfully, there has been a renaissance of the ghost story in recent years – maybe one would go so far as a resurrection as this genre really was, if you'll forgive me one more pun, dead in the ground!
What Ward does so well is bring her characters to life. I couldn't help cheering Hester on, watching her grow after years of submission under her tyrant father, Amos. What begins as a sad journey to collect a few facts, Hester realises there is more to be dug up from the paltry information she has been given by the vile Kirkhams who run the Southwell workhouse. Ward conjures up a sense of place or foreboding with an economy of words. She gives you what is needed and moves on with her plot. I could not stop this book until I had reached the end with Hester. The conclusion is satisfactory and you feel, as with Hester, that a particular chapter has closed. I didn't feel this latest as spooky as 'The Quickening' which had the whole Shirley Jackson 'house is alive' vibe, but 'The Shadowing' is definitely an addictive read of the old tradition that you won't want to put down until the final page.
Reviewed by: C.S.