From the pleasure palaces and gin-shops of Covent Garden to the elegant townhouses of Mayfair, Laura Shepherd-Robinson’s Daughters of Night follows Caroline Corsham as she seeks justice for a murdered woman whom London society would rather forget . . .
London, 1782. Desperate for her politician husband to return home from France, Caroline ‘Caro’ Corsham is already in a state of anxiety when she finds a well-dressed woman mortally wounded in the bowers of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. The Bow Street constables are swift to act, until they discover that the deceased woman was a highly paid prostitute, at which point they cease to care entirely. But Caro has motives of her own for wanting to see justice done, and so sets out to solve the crime herself. Enlisting the help of thieftaker Peregrine Child, their inquiry delves into the hidden corners of Georgian society, a world of artifice, deception and secret lives.
But with many gentlemen refusing to speak about their dealings with the dead woman, and Caro’s own reputation under threat, finding the killer will be harder, and more treacherous, than she can know . . .
Caro Corsham is a woman of substance, born to a banking family, living comfortably with her young son while her husband is abroad on government business. But she has been unwise, having an affair with an aristocrat has led to a pregnancy during the long absence of her husband. She is also a caring, confident woman, not content to let sleeping dogs lie when she sees other women being mistreated.
As the story opens, Caro is walking through the notorious Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, on her way to meet Lucia, an Italian countess she had met in the past. She has now discovered that Lucia is really Lucy Loveless, a successful society prostitute, and she believes Lucy can help her. However, she finds Lucy mortally wounded, and when it seems the authorities have no interest in finding the murderer, Caro enlists the help of thieftaker Peregrine Child.
The story is long and complex, following Caro and Child in their separate investigations but also taking us back a few months to the story of a young girl called Pamela who joins two older prostitutes as an artist’s models. We gradually learn about a group of men involved in an unsavoury society which holds secret parties at the country home of Jonathan Stone, a money lender who bleeds his victims dry.
The rich tapestry of authentic historical context greatly enhances the story and the deception practised by many of the characters made it impossible for me to identify the murderer. The classical references to Greek tragedy goes beyond my knowledge but it features because it was an artifice used by the men of the beau monde as an excuse for their corruption and lewd behaviour. Caro’s fearless actions when her reputation and her personal safety are endangered are admirable and towards the end I could not stop turning the pages for more revelations.
Daughters of Night on Amazon UK