This is the fourth book in the historical crime series by this American author.
It is London in 1890 and established amateur sleuths Sarah Bain, a photographer, and her colleagues Mick O’Reilly and Lord Hugh Staunton are still working for the Daily World newspaper. After solving a sensational murder in a previous outing, they’re under pressure to deliver another big story and seem to have landed one when they come across the scene of an unidentified woman whose face has been slashed but who is still alive.
She becomes the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ case and soon three very different parties come forward to identify her.
I liked the plot idea and could see how this might cause twists and turns in the novel but it is all rather Oscar Wilde meets Sherlock Holmes in the narrative.
Lord Staunton is in a homosexual relationship with a Roman Catholic priest and is looked down on in high society for his supposedly low morals. Mick was a street urchin who is seeing the light as a reformed character and could be part of American’s worldview of orphans in Victorian London at such a time.
Some of the language doesn’t seem of its time but the plot does draw you in, especially in the three contrasting groups trying to claim the mystery woman as their own.
Could she be the wife (Jenny) of a somewhat sinister artist August Legrand? Or is she the missing stepdaughter of grieving stepmother Esther Olpihant and her own two daughters, Faith and Frances, who present a somewhat tragic Cinderella cast in a weird convalescent home who claim she’s ‘not right in the head’? Or is she the adventurous Egyptian writer and explorer Maude Napier as claimed by her wilful yet charming daughter Venetia?
There is also an ongoing plot about Sarah’s father and his involvement and then disappearance as a murderer.
When the victim comes to life all seems a happy ending until another murder takes place and this time Sarah and her friends are implicated.
I liked the relationship between Sarah and her erstwhile fiance Detective Sergeant Barrett, but will he caught up as a suspect too when forces moving in the background see a happy story turn into a deathly tragedy?
On balance if you overcome the typical American stereotypes thrown in, which of course have to this point of course garnered plenty of fans, then this is a good crime mystery which has a different scenario and good cast of potential suspects. It rattles along nicely and although the shadow of Jack the Ripper (always useful for American crime fans) is always there Sarah and her team do seep into your sympathy and will no doubt go on to solve further crimes.
I liked it as a one off for a personal read but am not engaged enough because of the writing to go back to the start of the series. There’s room for it amongst book clubs I think because of the three as a team in unusual circumstances being the detectives.
Philipa Coughlan 3/3
The Woman in the Veil by Laura Joh Rowland
Crooked Lane Books 9781643852416 hbk Jan 2020