Happy Wednesday, dear readers. Please help me welcome bestselling author Karen Odden to Austenprose today. Her new Victorian murder mystery, Down a Dark River, released yesterday.
I have been hearing wonderful things about this book for months. Isn’t the cover gorgeous? I am rather partial to detective mysteries. Since it is the first in the series, I will be starting at the beginning of the Scotland Yard detective’s journey.
Inspector Michael Corravan is an interesting character. As a former bare-knuckle boxer he is ready for anything that the streets of 1878 London can throw at him. This mystery has been accurately written to reveal fascinating details about the times. Readers who appreciate beautiful prose and twisty plots with enjoy it.
Karen has generously shared an exclusive excerpt with us. She is on tour with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours this month, so be sure to check out the reviews, interviews, guest posts, and additional excerpts through the list of tour participants at the end of this post.
Enjoy the excerpt. Do give this one a leg up in your TBR pile.
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.
Belinda has her own particular surmise about why cases involving missing people bother me so—namely, because my own mother vanished when I was eleven.
Now, I’m the first to admit Belinda is clever about people. Once in a while I’ll talk with her about my work, and although mostly she just listens with that look that tells me she understands what I mean without my having to be overly particular about how I say it, every so often she’ll offer an insight about someone involved that strikes like a wave across the beam, rolling me sideways.
But in this instance, she’s mistaken.
To me, it’s the uncertainty that’s so disturbing. That is, a dead body lying in front of you, whether it’s been knifed in an alley or pulled from a boat, is a horrible thing. However, a dead body is certain, and once you’ve seen it, you’ve faced the worst. But a missing person? Your imagination can take the most violent, depraved acts and multiply them endlessly until the moment she is found. Meanwhile, it’s all dread and doubt, with that sick clutch at your insides every time it seems you’ve found her, only to discover you haven’t.
I’d been searching for Madeline Beckford for three weeks, since her husband had called at the Yard to report her missing. In my office, he’d explained, wretchedly and with some mortification, that over the past several months, his wife had given way to “peculiarities” that verged on delusions. Finally, one cold March night, she’d had a tantrum and fled the house wearing only a brown silk dress. He’d spent two days making discreet inquiries of friends before coming to us. I let him see my annoyance at the delay. Any fool knows we stand a better chance of finding someone if we’re called in promptly. He defended his actions by saying that he wanted to save her from embarrassment when she returned.
I’m not one to accept unquestioningly what I’m told by anyone, particularly by husbands about their wives and vice versa. Still, I felt for the man, who seemed sincerely torn about how best to protect her. Naturally, I verified his account with others, including his brother, a friend, and a doctor, who provided yet more shocking examples of Mrs. Beckford’s “peculiarities.” It made me wonder, Was Mr. Beckford unaware of them? Or was he just downplaying his wife’s strange behavior, so as not to disgrace her, or himself? Either way, I’d spent three weeks placing advertisements and inquiring at police divisions, hospitals, and train stations in expanding circles around Mayfair. Only yesterday had I discovered where she might be—and that for half a crown I could go in and get her.
Which brought me, coins in pocket, to the Holmdel Lunatic Asylum for the Poor.
The female attendant on the madwomen’s ward was squat and red-haired and smelled of gin, like a character in a jailhouse sketch by Dickens. She led me down a hallway that reeked of piss and opened the small judas window in one of the wooden doors. I peered through it into the rotten little room. A young woman sat grimly motionless on top of what passed for a sleeping pallet. A stained straitjacket held her arms crossed over her chest. What I could see of her dress was torn and filthy, but—I felt a small bubble of hope—it appeared to be a brown silk gown.
“How long has she been here?” I asked.
The attendant sniffed and wiped her nose with her sleeve. “I dunno.”
I glared down from my height. “A week or a month or a year?”
“Summat less’n a month,” she grumbled. “A const’ble brought her. Found ’er in the street.”
“Let me in,” I said.
“Keys’re kept at the end of the ’all,” she muttered and shuffled off in that direction.
Through the square window, I called “Mrs. Beckford” twice—the first time gently so as not to frighten her, and the second more loudly so she might hear me above the moans and cries echoing along the corridor—but she did not move her eyes from a spot on the wall.
If she’d been in her right mind when she arrived, she wasn’t now. But who could blame her? A single day would be a horror, and she’d been here for weeks with no idea if she’d ever escape. That alone would have turned me into a raving lunatic.
Chapter 13, pages 17-19
- “A harrowing tale of unbridled vice that exposes the dark underbelly of Victorian society.”— Kirkus Reviews
- “Impossible to put down.”— Historical Novel Society
- “A spellbinding brilliantly plotted Victorian murder mystery…”— Syrie James, bestselling author of The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte
Karen Odden earned her Ph.D. in English from New York University and subsequently taught literature at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She has contributed essays to numerous books and journals, written introductions for Victorian novels in the Barnes & Noble classics series and edited for the journal Victorian Literature and Culture (Cambridge UP). Her previous novels, also set in 1870s London, have won awards for historical fiction and mystery. A member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime and the recipient of a grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, Karen lives in Arizona with her family and her rescue beagle Rosy.
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Down a Dark River: An Inspector Corravan Mystery (Book 1), by Karen Odden
Crooked Lane Books (November 9, 2021)
Hardcover, eBook, & audiobook (336) pages
Cover image, book description, excerpt, & author bio courtesy of Crooked Lane Books © 2021; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2021, Austenprose.com