Editor’s Pick March UK/July US: SEASON OF DARKNESS by Cora Harrison

 

season of

Who killed Isabella Gordon? Cora Harrison, author of the ‘Mara’ Celtic mysteries and the critically acclaimed Reverend Mother series, brings us the first in the exciting new ‘Gaslight’ Victorian mystery series, which features a dark and sinister puzzle at its core.

When Inspector Field shows his friend Charles Dickens the body of a young woman dragged from the River Thames, he cannot have foreseen that the famous author would immediately recognize the victim as Isabella Gordon, a housemaid he had tried to help through his charity. Nor that Dickens and his fellow writer Wilkie Collins would determine to find out who killed her. Who was Isabella blackmailing, and why? Led on by fragments of a journal discovered by Isabella’s friend Sesina, the two men track the murdered girl’s journeys from Greenwich to Snow Hill, from Smithfield Market to St Bartholomews, and put their wits to work on uncovering her past. But what does Sesina know that she’s choosing not to tell them? And is she doomed to follow in the footsteps of the unfortunate Isabella?

The book begins with feisty Sesina urging her fellow housemaid, Isabella, not to see the mysterious gentleman she has arranged to meet and intends to blackmail at the Hungerford Stairs. But headstrong Isabella, determined to seek out a better life and sensing an opportunity, cannot be deterred. The discovery of her body leads to a thoroughly enthralling and tense mystery that kept me constantly on my toes. I was immediately drawn to Sesina, who although clever, sharp-witted and rebellious is really a vulnerable young girl wholly out of her depth when it comes to dealing with Isabella’s killer. Her failure to realize how much danger she’s in created an increasing sense of dread and fear as the plot thickened before reaching its dangerous and chilling climax – can Dickens and Collins save her in time?

I also loved seeing the coming together of two of the era’s literary heavyweights – Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins – as they try to unmask Isabella’s murderer. This unusual duo make an intriguing detective pair – it was fascinating to watch the slightly aloof Dickens hunt down a brutal killer alongside the softer, more charming Collins who manages to gain Sesina’s confidence. Anyone who’s a huge fan of Dickens is likely to spot the real-life parallels . . . he really did set up Uriana Cottage, ‘a home for homeless girls’, and one of his own letters concerning Isabella Gordon is the inspiration behind the book. The care and attention that has gone into making these two famous authors jump off the page as fully realized, distinct individuals and tenacious sleuths makes reading this story a real joy. Their characters are vividly drawn, and their relationship proves to be as entertaining as it is compelling.

An instantly charming, engrossing and insightful mystery, SEASON OF DARKNESS is sure to appeal to fans of Jacqueline Winspear and Anne Perry’s Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series, as well as being a must-read for all Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins aficionados!

SEASON OF DARKNESS is available from 29 March in the UK and 1 July in the US. Read more here.

 

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