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Winter of Despair
Gaslight Mysteries – Book II
BY Cora Harrison

Severn House
1 January 2020/ ASIN: B07YBKHD1M

Reviewed by Rachel A Hyde


London 1853: Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens are called upon by their old friend, Inspector Field, when a body in found in an artist’s studio. The dead man is Edwin Milton-Hayes, an artist known to Wilkie’s brother, Charley, and one of the people who was invited to attend a dinner party at his house that evening. Milton-Hayes was working on a series of paintings, but all the faces are blank, and Charley is behaving very suspiciously. Surely he can’t have had anything to do with the murder?

This is the second in the series, following on from A Season of Darkness. Both books are told in alternate chapters by Wilkie Collins in his own words, and from the viewpoint of his servant, Sesina. If you want to know more about her history, you will need to read the earlier book, and this is recommended as it introduces not only characters but plot strands. The gist of the story is that Charley looks to be the guilty party, and the amateur sleuths (aided by Sesina) have to prove otherwise. There is much in here taken from actual events, as the two writers were great friends, and Charley did hover on the edge of the Pre Raphaelites. Having the Inspector call upon them to help with the case seems rather less likely, but I don’t know enough to comment on whether this would have been possible.

This is an enjoyable read, pacy, and full of incident, as well as giving an insight into the lives of two author whose books I have always loved. Sesina is an interesting character, in love with Charley but also having an eye to her own wellbeing and future, a canny girl whose life has always been lived on the edge. Having the tale told by more than one person is reminiscent of the epistolatory style of some of Collins’ novels, and it works well. I will be looking out for the next in the series.

UK Reviewer: Rachel Hyde's work can be found in The Bead Magazine, Making Jewellery and
Reviewed 2020