If you enjoy a historical novel with a gothic feel, with a strong heroine uncovering secrets from her past and one which makes you think about personality and heredity, then do try this.

In the 1880s Cora goes to work as a servant to gentleman scientist Thomas Jerwood, who is interested in heredity and ideas of nature versus nurture. Cora was born in gaol and raised in a workhouse and she has dark secrets in her past which are gradually revealed both to her and to the reader through flashbacks and through her discovering what is actually going on in Jerwood’s house.

It is a gripping story, a haunting and original debut and full of period detail. Cora is a sympathetic and feisty character. Finding out about her crime and background give the story a strong narrative flow but I liked the addition of essays and scientific papers from Jerwood on his experiments in human nature.

I did find the storyline a bit confusing to start with, so do take note of the dates at the start of each chapter as it does jump about a bit. I was soon engrossed in Cora’s story though and would recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical novels and to reading groups who want a good story with some questions raised about the ethics of research into nature and nurture.

Berwyn Peet 5/5

The Conviction of Cora Burns by Carolyn Kirby
No Exit Press 9780857302946 pbk Mar 2019