Victorian respectability comes under siege.
Charles Roche, purveyor of silks and teas, hires plucky Lizzie Martin (The Companion, 2007) to attend his niece Lucy Craven, who’s grieving the death of her baby and residing at Shore House, the Hampshire home of her maiden aunties Christina, a battleaxe, and Phoebe, more of a mouse. Lizzie heads off over the objections of her beau, Inspector Ben Ross, Scotland Yard. On the journey she meets alienist Dr. Marius Lefebre, who confides that he too is destined for Shore House, where poor Lucy refuses to believe her child is dead. On her arrival, Lizzie glimpses Lucy’s mercurial nature, more tried than ever by the absence of her scoundrel of a husband, banished to China on tea business, and the tenderness neighboring landowner Andrew Beresford shows her. When Lucy is found screeching and bloodstained at the side of an itinerant rat-catcher who’s been murdered with an ornamental dagger from Shore House, Charles Roche beseeches the Yard for tact and rectitude. They respond by sending out Ben Ross. There’ll be eavesdropping, dress-burning and a murderous attempt to uphold the family honor before a trip to a Whitechapel workhouse determines not only why the rat-catcher had to die but what became of Lucy’s baby.
Despite some halfhearted red herrings that litter the plot, Lizzie copes nicely with barking dogs, snapping aunts and gentlemen who shade the truth.