Part historical fiction, part murder mystery, Daughters Of Night essentially grants its readers the gift of time travel in the most extraordinarily lucid, vividly presented way. Without a shadow of doubt this has become one my all time favourite books, and here’s why …
‘Come for the clever mystery, stay reading late into the night for the vivid, tender portrayal of a world where women are bought, sold and abused, yet fight to retain their vim and dignity. I would gamble what’s left of my virtue on Daughters of Night being the best historical crime novel I will read this year.‘
what it says on the cover …
From the brothels and gin-shops of Covent Garden to the elegant townhouses of Mayfair, Laura Shepherd-Robinson’s Daughters of Nightfollows Caroline Corsham, as she seeks justice for a murdered woman whom London society would rather forget …
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 . . .
PUBLISHED: 18th February 2021
SHELF: historical fiction | crime | thriller
AUTHOR: Laura Shepherd-Robinson
PUBLISHER: Mantle Books
FORMATS: Hardback | Audiobook | Kindle
‘He surveyed the women he passed, trying to pick out the harlots from the wives. It was no easy task. They brought their silks and satins from the same mantua-makers, their plumed hats from the same milliners, and, of course, they fu**ed the same men.’
my review …
I’ve had my copy of Daughters Of Night for a while now; it’s one of those books that I’ve been saving for a time when I can devote a few uninterrupted days to it. I had no intention of rush-reading this hugely anticipated novel; I wanted it to be an indulgence.
Daughters Of Night is the second novel by the award-winning author, Laura Shepherd-Robinson; a book whose publication was delayed twice because of Covid. By the time it finally hit the shelves on 18th February, it would be fair to say the anticipation in the book-world had reached fever pitch. I can honestly say, hand-on-heart that it was every bit as good as the plaudits, rave reviews, and rapidly emptying shelves indicated. I thoroughly enjoyed losing myself for hours at a time in the pages of this utterly immersive historic crime thriller.
Whilst this isn’t a sequel as such, Daughters Of Night picks up a few characters from Blood & Sugar, with Caroline (Caro) Corsham now taking centre stage. Once again, readers will be transported to a lavishly-written Georgian London – whilst Blood & Sugar was a murder mystery set at the heart of the slave trade, Daughters Of Night brings the bawdy hustle of courtesans, scoundrels and libertines to life in the most vividly lucid style.
This book is a 600-page extravaganza, but I flew through the pages, engrossed by authentic socio-political historical referencing woven sublimely with a genuinely compelling and suspenseful crime thriller.
Daughters Of Night opens to colourful a scene in the vibrant, hedonistic Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, as Caro Corsham hurries to a clandestine meeting in the notoriously secretive bowers; hidden-away chambers dedicated to furtive assignations and debauchery. Immediately, a sense of urgency is palpable, heightened by the poor lighting, and the knowledge Caro is meeting somebody here who she perhaps shouldn’t be … particularly as her husband, Captain Harry Corsham, is overseas, and Caro herself is attending without the presence of her footman, Miles. Yet as she walks into the pre-arranged bower she’s confronted with the prone body of her acquaintance, Contessa Lucia di Caracciolo, stabbed and dying in a pool of her own blood.
This opening chapter sets out the climactic events of the book’s main story, although there are three other threads that contribute beautifully to driving the plot forwards. One of these threads belongs to Pamela, a young girl who’s come to London to escape household servitude, hoping to be introduced to a rich man by taking work in a whore house. The second thread – that is also of huge consequence to the main story – belongs to that of the socially-awkward Theresa Agnetti, wife of the celebrated society artist, Jacobus Agnetti. Last, but by no means least, is Caro’s personal story as she strives to contain secrets of her own, rebels against the controlling strictures of her brother, and faces public condemnation and tittle-tattle as she refuses to be bound by the repressive etiquette of high-society women.
In the wake of the murder, Caro and her brother attend a meeting with the magistrate Sir Amos Fox, determined to ensure justice is served. Here, she’s shocked to learn that Lucia isn’t the ‘woman of consequence’ that she’d been led to believe, but a prostitute called Lucy Loveless favoured by some of society’s most high profile gentlemen. Unable to forget Lucy’s dying words – ‘he knows’ – Caro refuses to abide by the magistrate’s instructions to forget about this murder – ‘the death of a whore doesn’t prompt much pity’ – so she enlists the services of a down-on-his-luck thief taker called Peregrine Child.
As I first discovered in Blood & Sugar, Caro is a resolute character whose opinions, integrity and nature are way ahead of her time. True to form, she doesn’t sit quietly at home partaking in ladylike pastimes whilst Child has all the fun, instead she puts herself in as much danger as he does, asking questions and making enquiries that begin to elicit clues … and threats. Seemingly, the death of Lucy is just the start of a chain of dreadful events that engulf the lives of Pamela, and Theresa Agnetti, and put Caro and her young son’s life at great risk. The repercussions of the murderous events at the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens are far-reaching, with very few facets of high-society London untouched – Whitehall take an interest, as do the military, affluent money-lenders, and beyond. The threats to Child are brutal from the outset, whereas Caro receives warnings of a more subversive nature. But as she refuses to be cowed, convinced Lucy isn’t the only victim of the shadowy Priapus Club, and that other vulnerable women’s lives are at risk, so do the threats against her escalate.
The chapters of Daughters Of Night are short and eventful, making it ridiculously difficult to put the book down and do other things like eat and sleep! I was as drawn in by the hyper-real clarity of the scenes that unfolded in each chapter, from the sensory feasts of the Pleasure Gardens, to the deprivation and squalor so rife in the streets and brothels of Soho and Covent Garden, the markets and wharves. The locations are supplemented with wonderfully descriptive sights, sounds, and smells that all conspired to create the very real impression that I’d travelled in time. Through of-the-era vernacular, the voices of all the characters contributed beautifully to this impression; Caro’s educated conversation jarring perfectly with Child’s more swarthy yarn … and both of them are a world apart from the completely uncensored voices of the prostitutes!
Suspense and tension permeate throughout the book, yet as it nears its conclusion there was a noticeable escalation in pace, twists and revelations which brought a whole new darkness to the circumstances surrounding Lucy’s murder, and the whereabouts of the two missing women; Pamela and Theresa. But whilst the murder case is solved in these final chapters, a potential opportunity for a further book presents itself through the unmasking of Caro’s own secret.
Daughters Of Night is an incredibly colourful novel that is as much a work of historical commentary as it is a crime thriller. To me, it felt like being enveloped in lucid dream, where the masquerades and moody lighting maintain an off-kilter sensation that makes the thought of waking up (aka, finishing the book) a huge disappointment. My imagination was captured as much by the murder-mystery fiction as it was by the detailed factual gems the novel is built around. With historical fiction books that are as involving as this one, I really look forward to the author’s notes at the end; it intrigues me to discover the facts woven into the fiction, and to understand quite how extensive the research has been to frame and furnish these stories.
The inequalities of hierarchical privilege suffuse every thread and layer of the story, from elegant Mayfair homes and sprawling county mansions, to the infuriating injustices controlled and meted out by affluent men against those deemed to be of lower standing – both the poor, and women in general. It was pretty breathtaking at times to be reminded of the harsh realities of these times. There are many themes in this book which are as prevalent in today’s society as they were in Georgian London. Indeed, the author references the guidance she received from a book written in 2002 about coercive control as recommended by her friend who works with victims of domestic violence. So when you read this book – which you absolutely should – do so knowing that each one of the main characters has been heavily influenced by real men and women of Georgian London; the depraved Priapus Club, the shocking-but-charming Whores’ Club, the brothels and madams, the clandestine gin dispensaries, the law enforcers, the filth, the chop houses and taverns, the price of a pineapple! The intensity and clarity of the factual details that’ve gone into writing Daughters Of Night are pretty mind boggling, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this superb book to any reader who seeks a truly unforgettable and immersive adventure.
Thank you to Rosie Wilson at MacMillan for sending me a highly coveted advance proof copy in return for an honest, impartial review.
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 and the Specsaver’s Debut Crime Novel award, 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; the Amazon Publishing/Capital Crime Best Debut Novel; and the Goldsboro Glass Bell; and longlisted for the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year.
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