It’s 1782 and Caroline Corsham – known to her friends as Caro – is waiting for her husband, Captain Harry Corsham, to return to London from France where he has been sent on diplomatic work. Visiting the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens one evening, Caro is horrified when she comes across the body of her friend, Lady Lucia, an Italian noblewoman, who has been stabbed and left to die. The London authorities seem to have no intention of investigating the murder, which confuses Caro until she discovers that her friend was not who she claimed to be: she was actually a prostitute known as Lucy Loveless. As the police are no longer interested, Caro knows that she will have to avenge Lucy’s death herself – so with the help of thief taker Peregrine Child, she sets out to begin an investigation of her own.
Daughters of Night is a sequel to Laura Shepherd-Robinson’s previous novel, Blood & Sugar, but both books work as self-contained mysteries and I don’t think it will matter if you read them out of order. Those of you who have read Blood & Sugar will remember that it follows Harry Corsham as he investigates the death of an abolitionist friend and uncovers the horrors of the slave trade. Caro was only a minor character in that book, but now, with Harry absent in France, this is Caro’s turn to take centre stage with her own mystery to solve – and again, there is a very dark topic at the heart of the story, in this case prostitution and the treatment of women in 18th century society.
I mentioned in my review of the first book that I found the characters too thinly drawn and not memorable enough, but that was not a problem at all with this second novel. Daughters of Night is written partly from Caro’s perspective and partly from Peregrine Child’s; I liked them both and thought they complemented each other very well. Child’s previous experience as a magistrate means he knows what sort of questions to ask and what clues to look out for, and while he has some personal problems of his own he is a decent and honourable man. Caro is new to crime solving but there are things she understands that Child does not and together they make a perfect team. I certainly had no idea who the murderer was; there were several suspects who all seemed equally likely to me, so I enjoyed following the twists and turns of the plot until the truth is revealed.
Although the Georgian world that has been created here is not always very pleasant, it’s always fascinating to read about and feels thoroughly researched, ranging from larger themes such as the roles of art and classical mythology to the tiniest pieces of arcane knowledge that add colour and intrigue to the story. Laura Shepherd-Robinson has said that her next book will be a standalone but that she might return to this world again for a future novel – and I hope she does, as I would love to find out what else life has in store for Caro and Harry!
Thanks to Mantle for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.