Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey

cover image

Bloomsbury, 2011. ISBN 9781408811313.
(Age 13+) Recommended. Harvey is the author of the Drake Chronicles, one of my favourite paranormal series, so I was intrigued to find that she had written a ghost story set in Victorian times. I discovered that this talented author can transfer her writing skills to another period and type of book to make a very engrossing read.
'Violet Willoughby doesn't believe in ghosts but they believe in her'. (Back cover). Daughter of a fraudulent medium, Violet knows all about the tricks that make credulous people believe in spirits. When she is visited by the ghost of a drowned girl at the house of the wealthy Lord Jasper, a Spiritualist, she is at first disbelieving and then determined to find the girl's murderer. Colin, the boy her mother took in when he was orphaned, is around to help.
Part ghost story and part murder mystery, with a hint of romance thrown in, Haunting Violet is a compulsive read that I finished in one sitting. I felt I was really familiar with the historical period of the late 1880's by the time I was finished the book. The inflexible class structure, belief that loved ones wanted to communicate from beyond death, the plight of women and the fear of poverty provided a colourful background to the story. Harvey described lots of interesting snippets about the obsession that many Victorians had with reaching out to the spirits of their loved ones using seances. The stigma of illegitimacy touches Violet and the heart wrenching treatment she receives from both her father and her suitor as well as society reflects the rigid attitudes of the times. Violet, however, is a resilient girl, who is conscious of her own worth and is determined to do the right thing regardless of what other people think of her. She accepts that she does have unique gifts and puts them to good use to discover the murderer, while fighting her mother's wishes to exploit her.
The murder mystery aspect is also handled really well, with lots of red herrings thrown in to misled the reader. Harvey has the happy knack of being able to write prose that is humorous as well, so I had many chuckles as I read this book.
This is a book that will be enjoyed by those who enjoy a mix of mystery, ghosts and humour.
Pat Pledger