Gary Dolman

The Eighth Circle of Hell

"..Lizzie’s tale was one which reached out to my heart, touching my soul..."


The Victorian age is often held up as a shining era of British history, a time of wealth and power, of civilisation and philanthropy. It was all of these. Yet it was also a time of cruelty and depravity, where power and wealth were systematically abused. It was the time of the ‘defloration mania’, where young girls were bought and sold like the slaves they became. Elizabeth Wilson is an elderly woman who has spent a lifetime of grinding toil and poverty in a workhouse. She fled there as a young girl, pregnant and penniless, to escape her depraved uncle and his powerful friends. However, advancing dementia has caused her to regress inexorably back in her life, to the point where she is once again re-living the awful memories of her life as an orphaned child.

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Dolman’s debut novel is a powerful tale of treachery and systematic abuse. I regularly read the blackest of crime novels and enjoy the gritty scenes, yet this is one of the bleakest novels I have ever read. Such is the author’s skill though that I never wanted to stop reading. He never crossed into obscene territory or strayed beyond the line of decency, but he still left the reader in no doubt of exactly what was happening. The lead character Lizzie contributed mainly through flashbacks and Lizzie’s tale was one which reached out to my heart, touching my soul as I spent time with her. Atticus and Lucie Fox as the investigators were suitably clever but never once did they try and steal any of the show from Lizzie. Mary and Michael Roberts were fine additions as were the evil Alfred Roberts and Mr. Price. Somehow I could picture Victorian Harrogate very well despite the descriptions from the author being very sparse. Proof indeed that what you leave out can be more important than what is there. The choice of Harrogate as a setting though was a masterstroke as it is the epitome of a wealthy town where this type of behaviour could have happened. This type of novel is not my usual fare, but I am glad that I have read it, for now that I know more of the practice of ‘defloration’ the more I am heartened that we live in more civilised times. Sexual slavery and workhouses are thankfully now a part of our history. To sum up this novel I would have to say that Gary Dolman has tackled the very sensitive subject of paedophilia with just the right mix of detail and outrage in a fascinatingly thought provoking novel which will reside long in my memory.

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