Award-winning author Laura Joh Rowland is back with the sixth in her critically acclaimed Victorian Mystery series in which Sarah must search for the killer of a woman she found murdered on a train all the while waiting for the verdict of her father's trial for heinous crimes committed two decades earlier.
London, November 1890. Crime scene photographer Sarah Bain Barrett faces a perfect storm of events. She and her husband Detective Sergeant Barrett are riding on a train that crashes. While rescuing other passengers, they find a woman who's been strangled to death. Their search for her identity and her killer lead them to Cremorne Gardens, a seedy riverside pleasure park that's a combination carnival, theater, freak show, and museum of oddities. It's among the most challenging cases that Sarah, Barrett, and her friends Lord Hugh Staunton and Mick O'Reilly have ever undertaken. The suspects include a dwarf, a female acrobat, and a member of the Royal Family. Due to the royal connection, the police commissioner declares the case top-secret. Sarah and company must investigate on the quiet, keeping the suspects, the press, and the public in the dark. That's easier said than done. The investigation is complicated by the injury Hugh sustained during their last case, Mick's romance with a woman who has psychic powers, and Barrett's old flame.
Meanwhile, Sarah's father Benjamin Bain goes on trial for a rape and murder that happened more than two decades ago. The victim was a teenage girl named Ellen Casey. Is Benjamin Bain as innocent as he claims? Sarah has serious doubts. The trial is the scandal of the year, a media blitz. The outcome--and the truth about the murder on the train--are beyond Sarah's wildest imaginings. What dangerous secrets are hidden behind the tawdry glamor of Cremorne Gardens? Is Benjamin Bain wrongly accused, or a guilty sinner who deserves to be hanged?
At the start of Rowland's convoluted sixth Victorian mystery (after 2021's Portrait of Peril), crime scene photographer Sarah Bain and her new husband, Det. Sgt. Thomas Barrett, are riding the London underground in November 1890 when their train derails. In helping to rescue the injured, they discover a strangled corpse. The victim is New Yorker Katherine Oliver, a Pinkerton agent in Britain searching for a vanished American heiress. The photographs on Oliver's state-of-the-art Kodak camera were taken at the Cremorne Gardens, a derelict London pleasure park, and one depicts Prince Eddy, Queen Victoria's libidinous grandson. Bain and Barrett discover that three former circus performers offering new attractions at the Cremorne have falsified their names and histories, while the prince's visits to the site using a false name suggest that scandal awaits the royal family. Meanwhile, Bain also faces Barrett's entanglement with his former fianc e and the trial of her father for a rape and murder she worries he did indeed commit. The development and denouement of the myriad story lines can feel confusing, hasty, and implausible. This jumbled outing isn't Rowland's best. Agent: Pam Ahearn, Ahearn Agency.