The chill of The Silent Companions sneaks up on you and then settles in like a gray mist on a British moor. Which is no doubt intentional, since Laura Purcell’s third novel follows solidly in the Gothic literary tradition. It’s an unnerving read of a woman’s unraveling.
It’s 1865, and Elsie Bainbridge is en route to her new husband’s estate, The Bridge, in rural England. But it’s not a happy journey: Rupert Bainbridge has suddenly died there, and she’s traveling as a widow, not a bride, with only his cousin Sarah at her side. She’s also pregnant.
When Elsie arrives at The Bridge, things go from bad to worse. The housekeeper is borderline hostile, the servants are frightened of strange things that happen in the nursery, and mysterious 17th-century wooden figures are found in a locked room. These “silent companions” are a link to a Bainbridge ancestor, and Elsie starts to suspect they have a sinister purpose. She begins to believe that Rupert’s death was no accident—are she and her baby the next target?
Readers know more than Elsie does: From page one, her more modern story is intercut with both scenes from the 1630s, when the silent companions joined the household, and chapters from the near future, where a now-mute Elsie is confined to a sanatorium. But plenty of suspense comes from waiting to discover when and how the boom will fall.
Purcell ably summons a pervasive sense of doom and dread, and though few of the story beats will truly surprise genre fans, she conjures some genuinely creative horror elements. The Silent Companions is a shivery treat.