The Half Killed by Quenby Olson is a sort of Victorian murder mystery centering around Spiritualists. Only, what if all spirit mediums weren’t charlatans? What if some of them could really communicate with spirits? And what if some of those spirits had ill-intent?
Dorothea Hawes has no wish to renew contact with what lies beyond the veil. After an attempt to take her own life, she has retired into seclusion, but as the wounds on her body heal, she is drawn back into a world she wants nothing more than to avoid.
She is sought out by Julian Chissick, a former man of God who wants her help in discovering who is behind the gruesome murder of a young woman. But the manner of death is all too familiar to Dorothea, and she begins to fear that something even more terrible is about to unleash itself on London.
And so Dorothea risks her life and her sanity in order to save people who are oblivious to the threat that hovers over them. It is a task that forces her into a confrontation with her own lurid past, and tests her ability to shape events frighteningly beyond her control.
One of the things I loved most about this book was the atmosphere that was created by the writing. Not just the words used, and the descriptions which evoked certain feelings–the oppressive heat and grime of late Victorian London–but for all that was left out. In gothic stories one of the things that I feel is most important is that feeling of slight confusion, as if you’re just a bit off balance. I feel like it takes a very skilled author to know exactly how to create such a dream-like atmosphere that holds the reader’s imagination, letting them think they know what is happening while also making them want to question everything at the same time. This classic gothic atmosphere was brilliantly achieved in The Half Killed.
It’s not that often that I enjoy a book so much when I don’t fully connect with the characters. Because of the way in which this is written, which works great at creating that muddle of confusion, it didn’t allow me to find much to love about the characters. That’s not to say that I disliked the characters, just that I felt a certain distance from them, especially Chissick. It was really hard to tell what he was thinking and get into his head, but I think that was on purpose as the book is kind of a mystery and you’re not supposed to trust any of the characters. Even the main protagonist, even when you saw things from her past, I didn’t quite trust her. This sense of distrust works really well at the climax of the book, so it wasn’t a detriment at all.
This book also has a slight romance aspect to it which I loved. Even though much time doesn’t pass in the book it felt like such a slow-burn of a romance because it was written with such subtle cues.
Overall, I really liked The Half Killed and I’m looking forward to reading more from this author. Read this if you like gothic mysteries, Victorian horror, and/or subtle romances. 4/5 stars.