Book review: The Vanishing by Sophia Tobin

The Vanishing by Sophia Tobin
The Vanishing by Sophia Tobin

After forays into 18th century London and the Kent coast in 1851, author-to-watch Sophia Tobin returns with a gripping gothic tale of intrigue, romance and revenge set amidst the brooding hills of Brontë country.

The Vanishing is Tobin’s third novel and follows on from the runaway success of her exciting 2014 debut The Silversmith’s Wife, inspired by research into a real life London silversmith, and her second outing in The Widow’s Confession, a tale of secrets and lost innocence in Victorian Broadstairs.

Rich in atmosphere, suspense and mystery, and with more than a nod to the bleak, forbidding North Yorkshire landscape so memorably evoked in Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, this beautifully written page-turner is packed with passion and darkness.

It’s 1814 and Annaleigh Calvert, a 19-year-old foundling, has fled the home of her adoptive father in London after a failed romance to travel to the wilds of Yorkshire and take up a post as housekeeper to the Twentyman family.

White Windows is the remote home of Marcus Twentyman, a hard-drinking but sensitive man, and his sister, the brusque widow Hester. It sits on top of the rain-lashed moors in an isolated spot carved out of the barren earth.

London-born Annaleigh had been raised ‘to think of people as the threat; but here the vanquisher was the landscape itself.’

But Annaleigh soon discovers that White Windows is a forbidding house of shadows and secrets and that all is not as it seems behind closed doors. Why did the previous housekeeper run away in the night leaving behind all her possessions, and why do the locals constantly warn her about the Twentymans?

Isolated and lonely, Annaleigh is increasingly drawn to her master and as their relationship intensifies, she soon realises that her movements are being controlled and her life is no longer her own.

Slowly she is drawn into a web of intrigue and darkness where murder seems the only possible means of escape…

Carefully crafted with Tobin’s trademark attention to character development, language and atmosphere, this taut, tense mystery draws in the reader through its almost tangible sense of menace and the slow unravelling of the Twentymans’ buried secrets.

In Annaleigh we have a feisty, fiercely independent and fascinating heroine determined to carve out her own destiny but with a touching layer of vulnerability that leaves her emotions prey to the schemes and machinations of those who would take advantage of her youth and inexperience.

The magnificent moorland landscape also has a leading role to play, its capricious weather constantly casting a dark shadow over people and events, foiling the best-laid plans and helping to mould the lives of the tough and resilient Yorkshire folk.

Gothic storytelling for a new generation…

(Simon & Schuster, hardback, £12.99)