Author: Laura Purcell
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publish Date: June 18, 2019
What's the Story?:
From Goodreads.com: "Dorothea Truelove is young, wealthy, and beautiful. Ruth Butterham is young, poor, and awaiting trial for murder.
When Dorothea's charitable work brings her to Oakgate Prison, she is delighted by the chance to explore her fascination with phrenology and test her hypothesis that the shape of a person's skull can cast a light on their darkest crimes. But when she meets one of the prisoners, the teenaged seamstress Ruth, she is faced with another strange idea: that it is possible to kill with a needle and thread--because Ruth attributes her crimes to a supernatural power inherent in her stitches.
The story Ruth has to tell of her deadly creations--of bitterness and betrayal, of death and dresses--will shake Dorothea's belief in rationality, and the power of redemption. Can Ruth be trusted? Is she mad, or a murderer? The Poison Thread is a spine-tingling, sinister read about the evil that lurks behind the facade of innocence. "
My Two Cents:
I had heard a lot of buzz about Laura Purcell's other books and with a synopsis like "The Poison Thread" has, I couldn't wait to dive into this book! Gothic tale? Suspension of disbelief? Tons of secrets? Sign me up! Rich and sheltered Dorothea believes she's doing something good when she begins volunteering at the local prison. She believes in the practice of phrenology, the idea that head size and shape determines character and mental abilities (oh, boy, you have to love the Victorians and their rather interesting pseudo-science). When Dotty befriends Ruth, Ruth begins telling her tales of her incrimination. Dotty isn't sure what to believe: is Ruth a murderer or just mad?
Ahhhh, there was a lot to love about this book. Dotty and Ruth make fantastic foils for each other.
Dotty is from a good home. Although her mother died when she was young, she has always been taken care of and allowed to follow her desired pursuits. Ruth has had it rough. In a home where violence seemed ever present, she seems doomed to repeat the dark past of her parents. I loved the juxtaposition between these two characters. Dotty comes into the prison ready to judge through the phrenology that she holds in high regard without stopping to get to know the person she is judging. When Ruth begins to open up to her, Dotty realizes that sometimes you just need to sit back and listen before you can judge.
I also really liked the historical detail. Purcell creates a wonderfully dark setting for this book and I loved the gothic feel of it. The details of the very different lives between Dotty and Ruth also were fascinating. Dotty's position in society gives her a lot of freedom. Ruth's position holds her back in many ways. I appreciated that the detail allowed me to see just how vast the stratification between the haves and and have nots in this era were.
This was a great story and now I need to go back and read Purcell's other work!