From the brothels 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 . . .
Lucia’s fingers found her own. She gazed at Caro as if from a distance. Her lips parted, her words a whisper: ‘He knows.’
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 . .
Once again I have finished a book that falls between 4 and 5 stars. I am sticking with 4 stars only because it was slightly overlong and over-complicated. Don’t get me wrong, the story was excellently executed and intricately plotted but at times I wondered if I needed a spreadsheet to keep track of all the characters and the threads.
When Mrs Caroline Corsham, the wife of Harry Corsham (her politician husband who is currently away on business in France) discovers a murdered prostitute in Vauxhall Gardens, she begins an investigation of her own. Hiring the thief-taker Peregrine Child to help her, she is led into a world of prostitution, fraud, money-lending, rape, murder and all sorts, while together they attempt to uncover the truth. The descriptions of the goings-on in the underbelly of Georgian London are so well written that we are transported to the filth, excrement and degradation that lie therein. I knew about cock-fighting and bear-baiting but I have now learnt that women skinned dead mice in order to sell their pelts as false eyebrows while ‘entertainers’ juggled with live mice in Covent Garden. Who would have thought…
But enough about the poor mice (they always get a bad rap) and back to the prostitutes. Lucy Loveless (the murdered girl) and Kitty Carefree have been on the game for years, while Pamela – only 15 years old but as cunning as a barrel load of monkeys – is about to be sold as a virgin at auction. Yes this really did happen. She would be sold to the highest bidder who would have to be a gentleman of some wealth and standing and often married to boot. This is where we meet The Priapus Club, a group of libertine thrill-seekers (I’m being polite here), based loosely on the Hell-Fire Club of the time. At its head is Jonathan Stone, a money-lender who lends above the legal limit of 5% and thereby is the owner of numerous stately homes, antiquaries and a large fortune. Without any care for morality or outcome The Priapus Club ‘worshipped’ all things supposedly Greco-Roman, but more particularly drunken whoring dressed up as free thinking.
This is a fascinating look at the ‘beau monde’ of the time, the hypocrisy and double standards, and also at the dreadful lives of the poor and the things many of them had to do in order to survive. Caroline ‘Caro’ herself has to take unbelievable risks in her pursuit of the truth and she is not about to give up until she finds it. It is at times a tad unbelievable, but always exciting, and heart-stopping when we get near the end. If you love Historical fiction then don’t miss this fabulous book, but be warned that the language can be very colourful – Georgette Heyer this ain’t.
Many thanks to NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.