1866. Newly married, newly widowed Elsie is sent to see out her pregnancy at her late husband’s crumbling country estate. With her new servants resentful and the local villagers hostile, Elsie only has her husband’s awkward cousin for company. Or so she thinks. For inside her new home is a locked room, and beyond that door lies a 200-year-old diary and a deeply unsettling painted wooden figure.

It seems this book has been everywhere I look recently, teasing me with its beautiful cover, but I was determined to wait until the weather became colder and more autumnal, offering a more atmospheric time to read a ghost story. Then October arrived and I could contain myself no longer. Thankfully, The Silent Companions was worth the wait.

Billed as a ghost story inspired by Shirley Jackson and Susan Hill, Purcell really delivers on the gothic front; this book is full of flickering candlelight, locked rooms in crumbling mansions, superstitious villagers and things that go bump in the night.

Everything here is pitch-perfect for a ghost story. It starts innocently enough, with easily dismissed tales of noises coming from the locked attic, but we know what kind of story we are reading; we know there are darker things lurking beneath the surface. Gradually the dread increases until you find your pulse racing and your heart in your mouth as events become more and more horrifying.

Elsie is the perfect character for such a story. A woman who represses her feelings and her memories, supernatural forces find plenty to tease and torture her with. The psychological effect this has on Elsie – and the characters around her – is just as frightening as the ghostly goings-on.

For this is not just a story of ghosts and curses and deals with the devil. Purcell cleverly uses such gothic themes to explore the question of whether the most terrifying thing of all isn’t the supernatural, but the capability humans have for inflicting pain on each other.

The only thing I didn’t like about the book is the framing narrative, in which Elsie is locked in a mental asylum and is reluctantly beginning to remember the events leading up to her incarceration. This only served to slow down the pace, but thankfully there were only a few of these chapters.

The Silent Companions is the perfect book to pick up as the cold draws in and the evenings get darker. Settle down and prepare to be thoroughly spooked.

Many thanks to Bloomsbury for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.