At the dawn of the 20th century, the days are long for Velvet. Along with about 100 other young girls, she scrubs and rinses people’s clothing in Ruffold’s Steam Laundry on the west side of London. Their motto, “We rinse them Thrice to make them Nice,” does not take into consideration the toll on their workers. Conditions are harsh: long hours with few breaks in hot steam-filled rooms where girls easily faint from heat and exhaustion. When Velvet succumbs to fatigue one too many times, the supervisor, Mrs. Sloane, takes her aside to let her know that her behavior is unacceptable. Velvet knows she is in big trouble, and as an orphan barely in her teens, she will probably have to go to one of the dreaded workhouses.
"Mary Hooper provides a riveting mystery with a dash of the supernatural in her exploration of spiritualism in the early 20th century."
Trouble is not new to Kitty Marley, which is Velvet's real name. The last few years have been horrific for her. Once her poor mother died, she became her cruel father’s housekeeper. He was a drunk and a gambler; and consequently, they never had enough food or money to pay for decent lodgings. She last saw him when he was chasing her through the streets along the canal. Though she heard him fall into the water and call for help, she kept running without looking back. Later, she heard that his body had been found, but she could not feel grief for this man who had so abused her mother and herself. Unfortunately, she had no place to stay and spent her time sleeping in doorways and in parks until she found a job. Despite the hard work and long hours, she is lucky to have her job at Ruffolds. Now it will be taken away unless Mrs. Sloane shows her mercy.
Fortune smiles on Velvet, and she begins to work in the personal laundry section. She learns many new skills and finds that she actually enjoys taking care of some of the prettier dresses she gets. Her favorites belong to Madame Natasha Savoya. Because of her skill and dedication, Madame comes to meet the young girl and offers her a position as her personal laundress. Velvet’s life is about to change for the better, or so she thinks.
Madame is a beautiful woman and very kind to Velvet. She has, however, an unusual occupation; she is a Spiritualist. It doesn’t take the girl long to assimilate into the household, which includes housekeeper Mrs. Lawson and her daughter, Sissy. Of course, there is also the very handsome George, Madame’s assistant. Learning about what a Spiritualist does and getting to know George, Velvet is at first very content at the beautiful Darkling Villa.
What kind of things happen when the lights are turned down and Madame calls on the spirit world for her clients? What happens when the grieving clients return time after time, longing for contact with their departed loved ones? Velvet is sure that everything Madame does is from her heart and that she truly is a gifted Spiritualist. Even the great Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of Sherlock Holmes) sits in on the séances. It is a magical and sometimes frightening world. Very soon however, she is caught in a dark, dangerous world far more frightening than the one of her childhood.
Mary Hooper provides a riveting mystery with a dash of the supernatural in her exploration of spiritualism in the early 20th century. Her extensive research shows the Victorian world through the eyes of a young, vulnerable girl. Readers not only learn about the manners, dress and working conditions of the period, but also the horrible greed that would drive people to do dreadful things like preying upon the grief-stricken. The limited resources of women and children are reflected well in characters like Mary and her unfortunate mother, and descriptions of the baby farm where Velvet goes are beyond horrifying. At the book's end, Hopper gives more detailed descriptions of this fascinating time in an afterword.
An excellent choice for teen book groups, VELVET shows how spiritualists worked their trade and became powerful influences on their clients. They were, if you will, the Ghost Hunters of their times. Hooper gives us an entertaining, insightful story of this strange period.