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.