Source: Review copy
Publication: 18 February 2021 from Mantle
Narrator: Lucy Scott
Length: 15 hours and 29 minutes
ASIN No: B084Z2PHSV
My thanks to the publisher for an early copy for review
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….
You absolutely do not have to have read Laura Shepherd Robinson’s previous book, Blood and Sugar, but you will love it if you choose to do so. I liked it so much I read it then bought the audiobook to listen to it again such is the pleasure it offers.
So I was very keen to read Daughters of Night; so much so that this time I went straight to the audiobook. And I was utterly thrilled by it. Captain Harry Corsham was the central protagonist in Blood and Sugar. Now he is away in France on Government business and it is his wife, Caroline Corsham who takes centre stage in this rich and fabulous book.
It’s tiring for Caro being left alone in London with no-one to squire her around all the pleasures that London society has to offer. Set in 1782, when the American Civil war was raging, Daughters of Night is a beautifully rich tale of two societies and a fascinating exposition of how women were viewed at the time. Shepherd-Robinson’s prose is an absolute delight. Her storytelling is rich and sumptuous and she writes in such a descriptive way that you can picture everything as if you were there and sometimes even experience the deeply pungent smells of the streets.
As the book opens, Caro is in Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens at night in search of her friend the Italian Countess, Lady Lucia whom she has met through her brother, Ambrose. Caro has arranged to meet Lucia because Lucia has promised to assist her with a problem that Caro cannot manage herself.
But when Caro reached the bower that is their pre-arranged meeting place, she finds Lucia dying, bleeding from numerous from stab wounds. Her dying words are “He knows…”
Utterly distraught, Caro presses the Bow Street Constables to pursue Lucia’s murderer, but when it is revealed that Lucia is not an Italian Countess, but a prostitute named Lucy Loveless, their concern to identify the perpetrator disappears like snow off a dyke.
But Caro is not so easily dismissed. Whether Lucy or Lucia, the woman was a friend and Caro is determined to see justice done. And so begins an investigation into the morals and mores of Georgian Society and the London ton with its political secrets and influences, the secret clubs, the scandals and above all the rank hypocrisy of the monied and titled classes.
Caro has to find her way through the beau monde of Georgian Society at the same time as she is learning about how the poorest women end up in prostitution. To help her navigate the yawning class divide she employs the services of a thief taker, Peregrine Child (who also appears in Blood and Sugar) to help her investigations.
This is such a rich and layered story it is hard to do it justice. An absolutely compelling historical novel, with a fascinating and deeply twisty and surprising murder mystery at its heart, it is also a beautifully explored exposé of the treatment of women and especially of the sex trade; of the double standards employed by men and of how they subjugated women at every turn and of the yawning gulf between the classes. (Some things never change). Laura Shepherd Robinson’s use of language is robust and rings out loud and clear with verisimilitude, endowing her prose with another layer of sumptuous authenticity.
The characters here very much become people you care about, so much so that when one of them lets Caro down badly, you feel both their pain and so hurt that Caro puts her trust in someone who is not in the end worthy.
Exposing the vile and corrupted sex trade she also shows the resourcefulness of women and the strength they show in the face of adversity. Caro is one such woman and when all the chips are down she will take a courageous stand on behalf of all women, regardless of the personal cost. She is an early feminist in an age where such a thing is unthinkable.
A word here for the truly stunning narration by Lucy Scott. A narrator can make or break an audiobook and Lucy Scott’s narration is pitch perfect, her silken voice marching the pace and tone of the book perfectly.
Verdict: I adored this book. It’s rich, warm, layered and utterly fascinating. I have absolutely no hesitation in shouting about it from the rooftops. This is how historical fiction should be, drawing you in and making you feel part of that world; caring what happens to the people in it. Bravo!
Laura Shepherd-Robinson is an author, born in Bristol in 1976. She has a BSc in Politics from the University of Bristol and an MSc in Political Theory from the London School of Economics.Laura worked in politics for nearly twenty years before re-entering normal life to complete an MA in Creative Writing at City University. She lives in London with her husband, Adrian. Blood & Sugar, her first novel, won the Historical Writers’ Association Debut Crown, was a Waterstones Thriller of the Month, and a Guardian and Telegraph novel of the year. It was also shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger and the Sapere Historical Dagger; and the Amazon Publishing/Capital Crime Best Debut Novel.