Daughters of Night is the latest historical murder mystery novel from Laura Shepherd-Robinson, and is a loose sequel to her first book, Blood and Sugar.
Set in London in 1782, the story follows Caroline (Caro) Corsham, the wife of the lead character in the previous book, who is given centre stage here. With her husband Henry away on important business Caroline finds herself in a web of danger when she discovers a woman dying in the bowers of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens.
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Caroline is there to comfort the woman in her dying moment, as she bleeds to death from several wounds, and hears her last words – ‘he knows’. Caroline believes the woman to be a wealthy Italian countess she had met a few times years before, but when it is revealed to her that she was actually a sex worker named Lucy Loveless, and that because of who she is no investigation will be made, Caroline sets out to find the killer herself.
She employs the help of a thief-taker called Peregrine Child, who her husband spoke highly of. Together, the two of them begin investigating Lucy’s murder, an investigation that will lead them to the brothels of London, a secret society, a master artist, and a conspiracy that could topple the entire country. With Caroline facing threats on all sides, and discovering that her recent affair has led to her becoming pregnant, she has to decide how far she wants to take this investigation, even if it means that she could lose everything.
I’ve read a few historical mystery books in my time, but this is one of the few that I’ve read that takes place within Georgian London, an era that seems to get overlooked. Despite being unfamiliar with this era beyond a basic knowledge of the style of dress and the gin craze, I never felt like I was lacking in information, as Laura Shepherd-Robinson manages to evoke such a clear sense of this world. She builds the atmosphere perfectly, providing enough information without overwhelming that you feel like you have a strong picture of what this old version of London looks like, as well as the people who inhabit it.
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That being said, the people are where the book really excels, and Shepherd-Robinson manages to create a wonderfully varied, and expansive cast of characters. Whether it’s people we spend a lot of time with like Caro and Child, those we begin to suspect of the murder, or people we see only the once over the course of the investigation, these people feel very real and well crafted. It would be easy to make caricatures of some of these people, they’re from a very different time to ours, with very different societal norms, and it would be easy to paint all the sex workers as the same, or as one dimensional; instead, they get personalities, motivations, and dynamics that vary. They get treated like real people who you can empathise with and whose motivations you understand. Considering some writers fail to see any kind of sex workers as real people the fact that the author breathes so much life and personality into so many here, and ones from hundreds of years ago, is a truly pleasant surprise.
We also get some good insight into the inner workings of ‘higher’ society of the era too, and get to see that despite some people being assumed to be ‘betters’ simply because they have wealth and a title they can be worse than those who have nothing. The book plays with expectations on class and station in ways that I wasn’t expecting. Even those who aren’t connected to the crimes who hold high positions are shown to be flawed, greedy, and ruthless, whilst those who have to live in squalor, who are looked down on by ‘good’ society have compassion and caring, and choose to do the right thing. Much like with the portrayal of the sex workers, it would have been easy to fall into easy stereotypes here, yet the author instead chooses to paint a much more balanced and truthful depiction of society.
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The central mystery is what really sells the book though, and it has some wonderful twists and turns to it. There was more than once that I thought I’d come across the right answer, or had figured out an important part of the mystery, only to find out that I was wrong. Even right until the end when I thought everything had been revealed Shepherd-Robinson managed to throw some final revelations and unexpected moments in that I never felt like I could let my guard down. It tested my deductive powers in a lot of fun ways, and that’s something not every mystery novel can say with confidence.
Whether you’re a fan of historical mystery or not, and whether you’ve much experience in this setting, Daughters of Night is a book that will hook you quickly, take you on a journey with unexpected twists and turns, and provide you with a compelling group of characters. An absolutely wonderful experience to read.
Daughters of Night is out now from Mantle.