REVIEW: Daughters of Night by Laura Shepherd-Robinson

DaughtersThe question I  ask myself of historical fiction is: "Does this pass the smell test?" The best historical fiction is totally immersive: it takes you straight to the heart of the adventure and brings everything about it alive conjuring an entirely new world from thin air. It's not difficult for me to imagine Rebus having a pint at the Oxford bar or River Cartwright chasing someone through the City. I've walked those streets and had that beer. I don't have those reference points for Georgian London so I need the author to play Doc Brown to my Marty McFly, and literally transport me there. 

And so you walk through the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in 1782, the site of the opening scene of Daughters of Night, you experience an assault on all the senses: you can hear the gaiety of thousands of Londoners enjoying late summer reveries, see the colourful lanterns lighting up the night sky, feel the late evening dew and taste the ale and wine that is raising the volume, the tension and the hackles. 

But what do you smell? Is it the fear of Caroline Corsham, walking out into the far reaches of the Gardens in pursuit of her own secret? Or the smell of firework smoke from the festivities in the background? Or the metallic tang of blood of the woman Caroline finds bleeding to death in the dark bowers? 

It's all three, and within a few short pages, Shepherd-Robinson had me fully immersed and hooked. 

Shepherd-Robinson took the historical crime fiction scene by storm in 2019 with her debut novel, Blood and Sugar, a thrilling and evocative novel set around the slave trade. That novel passed the smell test, and Daughters of Night is a worthy successor. Caroline Corsham is the wife of Henry, who set off for Deptford in the previous novel on the scent of a killer. A year or so later, he is abroad, on some secret squirrel diplomatic work for His Majesty's government. So when the body in the bushes turns out to be that of a London prostitute rather than an Italian countess, it is his wife that takes up the investigative cudgels as the official authorities lost interest quickly. 

The case of Lucy Loveless takes Caroline and her hired thief-taker, Peregrine Child, into the darkest corners of London society, where the low world of gambling and prostitution intersects with a world or privilege, position and money. 

Shepherd-Robinson marries attention to period detail with compelling plotting and strong characters. The result is another highly accomplished atmospheric thriller.  


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