A Victorian sleuth’s probe of a suspicious suicide leads to a deeper mystery surrounding a notorious serial killer.
London, 1890. Photographer Sarah Bain’s success as an amateur sleuth (A Mortal Likeness, 2018, etc.) has led to a job as a crime-scene photographer for the Daily World. Together with her handsome sidekick, Lord Hugh Staunton, and street urchin and factotum Mick O’Reilly, Sarah’s summoned to a grisly scene. Pub owner and sometime hangman Harry Warbrick appears to have hanged himself. His severed head rests in a noose above a pool of blood. But evidence at the scene convinces Sarah that this was not suicide but murder. Malcolm Cross, Sarah’s rival at the World, mocks her account. In announcing an in-house contest to ferret out the truth before the police, Sir Gerald Mariner, the paper’s shrewd owner, pits Sarah against Cross (not to mention law enforcement). An interview with the not-so-grieving widow reveals that she’s taken a secret lover, whom Sarah unmasks on a visit to Newgate prison as handsome prison surgeon Dr. Simon Davies. The investigative trio has visited Newgate in response to the discovery that a rope Warbrick had on display in his pub has been stolen. The stolen rope had served in the execution of notorious "baby farmer" Amelia Carlisle, believed to have killed countless children. Could the two cases be connected? Backstories of the protagonists add texture to Rowland’s tale, from Hugh’s estrangement from his family because of his homosexuality to Sarah’s fractious relationship with her criminal father to Mick’s desperate crush on beautiful actress Catherine Price.
Rowland’s engaging team of sleuths and a colorful rogues’ gallery of suspects make her third Victorian mystery a genuine page-turner.