Season of Darkness is a historical murder mystery that treats us to the illustrious characters of Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins in the roles of detectives. The relationship between Dickens and Collins is very interesting and intriguing, where Dickens is more the mentor and advisor to Collins but not as a master-apprentice. The real-life relationship was one of a close life-long friendship.
Two young housemaids, Isabella and Sesina, have known each other for many years and spent time together at Urania Cottage. History tells us that the real Urania Cottage was financially backed by Miss Angela Burdett-Coutts to provide a home for “Fallen Women”, and Dickens was known to have fully supported and participated in the venture. Dickens tried to help educate and seek alternative futures for these women other than prostitution, such as immigration to Australia. In respect of this story, Dickens knows the 2 women and while they were very intelligent they were asked to leave Urania Cottage because they caused considerable disruption. Dickens still refers to them as his girls and feels a paternal responsibility.
Both Isabella and Sensia now maid at a lodging house in Adelphi Terrace in London and dream of how they will find a way to become independent women and live a different life from the one they inhabit. Without bringing Sesina into her confidence, Isabella hints that she is meeting someone that will give her money. Sesina suspects that this is likely blackmail and when 2 days later, Isabella is fished out of the Thames, she is convinced that it is one of the lodgers or the housekeeper, Mrs Dawson.
Inspector Field brings Charles Dickens into the morgue to show him the girl who he recognises as Isabella. Why this was done is still a mystery to me. It does, however, compel Dickens and his colleague Collins to search for the truth behind her murder. Sesina, presuming she is very clever decides to influence the investigation by leaving clues to whom she suspects to be the murderer. Will this help, or hinder? Is it meant to help or hinder?
The story seems set to be engrossing and full of clever deductions and imaginative investigative approaches but it was disappointing that it didn’t take advantage of this. The pace was very sluggish and really only picked up towards the end. I felt frustrated that the story didn’t live up to the potential although it was well written. The atmosphere of London in the 1850s was very captured and the precarious nature of life at the lower end of society was forever present.
I think there are so many great thrillers out there that it’s difficult to recommend this book over those. I would rate this book 3.5 stars and I’d like to thank Severn House Publishers and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC version in return for an honest review.