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 thief taker 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…
I absolutely LOVED Laura Shepherd-Robinson’s debut novel, Blood & Sugar, and was delighted to get hold of her follow up via Netgalley ahead of its publication in February 2021.
While the two novels aren’t part of a series, they do feature some of the same characters. One thing I liked about Daughters of Night is that Caroline (Caro) Corsham, a minor character in Blood & Sugar, takes centre stage here with her husband, Harry, away for the duration of the novel. And what a character she is! Bold and headstrong, she has only a passing concern for society and propriety and is utterly determined to bring Lucia’s murderer to justice. The revelation (early on) that Lucia isn’t the Italian noblewoman that Caro has been led to believe, but is rather a prostitute better known as Lucy Loveless does nothing to diminish her intentions, despite the harm – physical and reputational – that it may do her, believing that a murdered woman deserves justice, whatever her profession. Caro is a joy to read, and I cheered her on shamelessly throughout.
To support her investigation, Caro hires thief taker, Peregrine Child – another name that will be familiar to those who’ve read Blood & Sugar – to assist in bringing Lucy’s murderer to justice. Somewhat down on his luck, Child is heavily indebted to the wrong sort, which doesn’t stop him soaking up gin like it’s going out of fashion. They make an unusual pair, but however poorly Child comes across initially, he quickly proves himself to be as determined as Caro to seek justice, and not just for the money that he’s being paid. Sharp and shrewd, there’s not much that gets past him, and I think that Caro and Child complement each other nicely – both have their own ways and means, and between them, they cover all angles of the investigation nicely.
As you’ve likely guessed from the title and synopsis, Daughters of Night centres around prostitutes, and particularly those who attend to the wealthier members of society. The double standards of the time are highlighted, with such individuals frowned upon, and yet visited shamelessly by many of those doing the frowning:
Child surveyed the women he passed, trying to pick the harlots out from the wives. It was no easy task. They bought their silks and satins from the same mantua-makers, their plumed hats from the same milliners, and, of course, they fucked the same men.
I think that some novels have a tendency to look down on such individuals and I found it a pleasant change to look on these women from a different angle, in that this was one of the few professions that might give a woman some element of freedom – something that was unlikely to be achieved through marriage, as I’m sure Caro would attest to. That’s not to say that it’s glamourised in anyway – it has its dangers, and these are highlighted throughout the narrative – but it was a choice that some women made willingly in order to gain some degree of independence.
A brilliant piece of historical fiction, Daughters of Night is extremely well researched, and Shepherd-Robinson brings Georgian London to life brilliantly, incorporating some absolutely fantastic swearing from the time that I’ve not come across before – “beshittened arsehole” is my new go to curse! More than that, it has a fantastic mystery at its heart, which becomes increasingly complicated as Caro and Child begin to dig into what happened to Lucy when the officials appear to lose interest. There are multiple suspects, and I had absolutely no idea who was responsible. I also loved the references to Greek myth used throughout the novel, which seemed initially to be a little more than an aside, but soon became more relevant to the narrative. Highly recommended.
Daughters of Night will be published in February 2021 by Mantle Books. Many thanks to the publisher for the opportunity to read and review ahead of publication via Netgalley.