Thursday, November 4, 2021

ARC Review: Down a Dark River by Karen Odden

Down a Dark River

Karen Odden
Series: An Inspector Corravan Mystery (Book 1)
Publication: Crooked Lane Books (November 9, 2021)

Description: In the vein of C. S. Harris and Anne Perry, Karen Odden’s mystery introduces Inspector Michael Corravan as he investigates a string of vicious murders that has rocked Victorian London’s upper crust.

London, 1878. One April morning, a small boat bearing a young woman’s corpse floats down the murky waters of the Thames. When the victim is identified as Rose Albert, daughter of a prominent judge, the Scotland Yard director gives the case to Michael Corravan, one of the only Senior Inspectors remaining after a corruption scandal the previous autumn left the division in ruins. Reluctantly, Corravan abandons his ongoing case, a search for the missing wife of a shipping magnate, handing it over to his young colleague, Mr. Stiles.

An Irish former bare-knuckles boxer and dockworker from London’s seedy East End, Corravan has good street sense and an inspector’s knack for digging up clues. But he’s confounded when, a week later, a second woman is found dead in a rowboat, and then a third. The dead women seem to have no connection whatsoever. Meanwhile, Mr. Stiles makes an alarming discovery: the shipping magnate’s missing wife, Mrs. Beckford, may not have fled her house because she was insane, as her husband claims, and Mr. Beckford may not be the successful man of business that he appears to be.

Slowly, it becomes clear that the river murders and the case of Mrs. Beckford may be linked through some terrible act of injustice in the past—for which someone has vowed a brutal vengeance. Now, with the newspapers once again trumpeting the Yard’s failures, Corravan must dredge up the truth—before London devolves into a state of panic and before the killer claims another innocent victim.

My Thoughts: It is 1878 in London and Michael Corravan is one of the few Senior Inspectors for Scotland Yard who survived the corruption scandal the previous year where other Inspectors were convicted of bribery and other crimes which let criminals go free. 

The Yard has a new director in the person of Mr. Vincent, a public school man, son of a baronet, former reporter with now previous police experience. Vincent couldn't be more different than Corravan who is an orphan from Whitechapel who lived on the charity of others after his mother's death and who earned his living as a bare-knuckles boxer and riverman before he joined the police. While Vincent wants to clean up the Yard's reputation, Corravan is more interested in solving the multitude of cases on his desk.

Corravan is currently looking into the disappearance of Mrs. Beckford. Her husband reported her missing and Corravan has been looking for her for two weeks. He thinks he might be getting close to finding her. Then Vincent assigns him the case of a woman found murdered and floating in a lighter on the Thames. He learns that the woman is Rose Albert, the daughter of a prominent judge. 

As he looks into her murder, he learns that she was a kind woman who leaves behind a loving fiancé. but whose family has various secrets. Then another young woman is found. She's also upper class and Corravan begins looking for connections. When a third woman is discovered, this time alive, Corravan's case gets more complicated. Though he does start to see connections more than than class and addresses that connect them to his missing woman case.

Because Corravan found the missing woman in an asylum, wrapped in a straight jacket, and silent. He tries to bring her home but she gets violent when approaching her home which convinces him to take her to a doctor friend who runs a ward at a local hospital where he deals with mental disorders. This is illegal. The woman has no rights and should be returned to her husband who has control over her. But Corravan wants answers first. 

This was an excellent story steeped in Victorian life and culture. Corravan was a well-rounded character whose background as a child has made him a man determined to find justice for the victims of the crimes he is investigating. At the same time his background has made it difficult for him to ask for help even from the woman he loves and makes him emotionally fragile. The information about women's rights, or rather the lack of them, was well integrated and form a large part of the plot of the story.

Fans of historical mysteries with great settings and well-developed characters will enjoy this story and be looking forward to more of Michael Corravan's adventures. 

Favorite Quote:
These nights with Belinda were the most wonderful few hours of my week. And yet as I let us out the back door, locking it carefully behind, I had a sensation of relief. I loved Belinda--of course I did. But she liked to haul thoughts and feelings out into the light to examine them, and sometimes mine were wily and furtive and wanted to be left alone in the dark.
I received this one in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley. You can buy your copy here.

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