Laura Purcell struck gothic gold with her debut novel ‘The Silent Companions’ and she’s also on fine form with her latest. Set in the mid-19thcentury she juggles the narrative between two protagonists: Ruth, a teenage seamstress who is in jail and awaiting trial for murder, and Dorothea, a 24-year-old woman of means who has a keen interest in phrenology (practitioners believe they can reveal personality traits by feeling the bumps on someone’s head). Dorothea is particularly interested in the criminal mind and pays Ruth regular visits to hear her story. The seamstress’s juicily melodramatic tale sees her separated from her parents and living with the kind of dressmaker that could teach Dickens’s villains a thing or two about cruelty. Ruth also believes that she has supernatural powers and can harm others through her stitches. As she proved with ‘The Silent Companions’ Purcell knows how to stir a pot-boiler until the very last page, but this compelling tale also has plenty to say about woman’s place in Victorian society and the punishments they faced when trying to deviate from their accepted roles.