Tuesday, January 5, 2021

ARC Review: Portrait of Peril by Laura Joh Rowland

Portrait of Peril

Laura Joh Rowland
Series: A Victorian Mystery (Book 5)
Publication: Crooked Lane Books (January 12, 2021)

Description: For fans of C. S. Harris comes Laura Joh Rowland's fifth Victorian mystery where Sarah must confront her own ghosts--and face her most elusive and deadly adversary yet.

Victorian London is a city gripped by belief in the supernatural--but a grisly murder becomes a matter of flesh and blood for intrepid photographer Sarah Bain.

London, October 1890. Crime scene photographer Sarah Bain is overjoyed to marry her beloved Detective Sergeant Barrett--but the wedding takes a sinister turn when the body of a stabbing victim is discovered in the crypt of the church. Not every newlywed couple begins their marriage with a murder investigation, but Sarah and Barrett, along with their friends Lord Hugh Staunton and Mick O'Reilly, take the case.

The dead man is Charles Firth, whose profession is "spirit photography"-- photographing the ghosts of the deceased. When Sarah develops the photographs he took in the church, she discovers one with a pale, blurred figure attacking the victim. The city's spiritualist community believes the church is haunted and the figure is a ghost. But Sarah is a skeptic, and she and her friends soon learn that the victim had plenty of enemies in the human world--including a scientist who studies supernatural phenomena, his psychic daughter, and an heiress on a campaign to debunk spiritualism and expose fraudulent mediums.

In the tunnels beneath a demolished jail, a ghost-hunting expedition ends with a new murder, and new suspects. While Sarah searches for the truth about both crimes, she travels a dark, twisted path into her own family's sordid history. Her long lost father is the prime suspect in a cold-case murder, and her reunion with him proves that even the most determined skeptic can be haunted by ghosts from the past.

My Thoughts: This story begins at Sarah Bain's wedding to Thomas Barrett where she's thinking her worst problem is fearing that her new mother-in-law will stand up with objections. She and Sarah have never gotten along since she thinks her son can do much better than Sarah.

But finding a dead body is the crypt under the church is a bigger problem and leads to Sarah and Barrett's next mystery. Sarah knows the photographer who is Charles Firth and who was the man who gave Sarah a discount on her first photographic equipment. She lost track of him and is now surprised that he is big in the field of spirit photography and who has made a good living taking photos of ghosts.

The spiritualist movement in big in London. There are scientists who are supposedly using devices to prove the existence of ghosts; their are photographers who are capturing images of the ghosts. And there are people who are campaigning to debunk spiritualism and prove the mediums and photographers are frauds.

This gives Sarah a number of suspects to investigate while trying to solve the murder of her old mentor. Of course, Sarah is also trying to prove that her father who is a fugitive from justice who has been accused of rape and murder was in fact innocent. Unfortunately, the actual murderer was her mother's illegitimate son with the assistance of her mother. She gets a number of leads to help her prove this but none of the witnesses want to come forward. Sometimes it's because the revelations will destroy new lives. Other times it's because it will ruin the witnesses' reputations. 

Sarah is also concerned about her friend Hugh who is on a path to self-destruction after a homosexual relationship ends. Hugh has gone missing and no one can find him. Worry is taking time from her other investigations.

Even worse, when a second victim is found, her friend Mick is found standing over the body with bloody hands. Sarah's old enemy Inspector Reid is right on hand to arrest Mick and railroad him into a quick trial.

This was an excellent entry into this series. It was filled with great detail about the Victorian period. It also had a lot of action. I liked learning more about Sarah and seeing her battle her own demons.

Favorite Quote:
The knowledge that somebody had once cherished me helped me bear the many years when nobody did, until Hugh and Mick became my friends.

I received this one in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley. You can buy your copy here.

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