Down a Dark River by Karen Odden
Publication Date: November 9, 2021
Crooked Lane Books
Hardcover & eBook; 336 pages
Series: An Inspector Corravan Mystery, Book One
Genre: Historical Mystery
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.
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Most of us Yard men would say that over time we develop an extra sense for danger close at hand. For me, the earliest glimmer of it appeared when I was still new to Lambeth division, wearing a scratchy blue coat with shoulders a few inches wider than my own, and I felt my way for the first time down a shadowed alley, truncheon in hand, braced for whatever skulked around the corner.
After a dozen years of policing, I liked to believe my instinct had been honed to a keen blade. That I’d seen enough London crime not to be surprised by much. That I could sense the approach of something especially vicious by a prickling along my arms or a tightening below my ribs.
But that Tuesday morning, I never saw it coming. A case with a murderer as hell-bent on destruction as the mythical three-headed monster Ellén Trechend roaring out of its cave. All I saw, at half past eight that rainy morning in early April, was young Inspector Stiles. He knocked and poked his head into my hole of an office, as he’d done dozens of times before.
“Inspector Corravan.” His voice was subdued, and his brown eyes lacked their usual spark.
I looked up from some notes I was making about a missing wife. I was two days behind on my diary, and in the wake of last year’s scandal, the new Yard director, Howard Vincent, was a stickler for keeping proper records in case anyone from the Parliamentary Review Commission wanted to see them at a moment’s notice. “What is it?”
“The River Police found a dead woman downstream from Wapping. They just sent word, and Vincent wants us both to go.” The thought of a dead woman was unpleasant, certainly, but it was the other part of Stiles’s remark that surprised me into silence—because River men never asked for help from the Yard if they could avoid it. Not to mention that Blair had been the superintendent for fifteen years and knew more about the Thames than anyone. Why would he need us? And I could imagine the look he’d give when he saw that it was I who’d been dispatched. Besides, what was Director Vincent doing, sending us off to other divisions? Every one of us already had too many cases, including me—one of which was the missing Mrs. Beckford, which I might manage to resolve by the end of the day, so long as I didn’t get sidetracked. And I was keen to find her. Missing people claw at my nerves even worse than dead ones.
I snorted my annoyance, and Stiles looked apologetic. “The chap said there’s something peculiar.”
As I plucked my overcoat off the rack, Stiles took my old black umbrella out of the stand and offered it to me. That was Stiles, doing his best to keep me from catching my death, even when I barked at him. I grasped the handle and grunted my thanks.
We walked toward Whitehall Place, our umbrellas braced against the rain, and I sent a sideways look at Stiles, who was tugging his hat more firmly onto his head. I was his senior by almost a decade, having served in uniform in Lambeth for nearly three years, the River Police for four, and here as a plainclothes detective at the Yard for five. When he came to the Yard eighteen months ago, Stiles had been an above-average policeman, with hands as quick as most boxers I’d fought, a willingness to learn, and an amiable manner that put witnesses at ease. But he’d been uncertain with me at first, a little nervous. And then the trial last autumn had been hell, with crowds outside the Yard every morning screaming how we were frauds and cheats, and we all deserved hanging or worse. I could tell it ate at Stiles, but we kept our heads down and resolved six cases in three months—an outcome I liked to think encouraged the Review Commission to let the Yard remain open for a while longer. So we’d been through enough together that now he was like a sturdy skiff, still bobbing in my wake but, to my secret satisfaction, not about to be easily overturned by anything.
“Mr. Quartermain was in with the director first thing this morning,” Stiles said once we settled into a cab.
Of all the members of the Review Commission, Quartermain was the most critical of the Yard. He believed all policework should be done by men in uniform—partly because the uniform deterred criminals and partly because our plain clothes provided what he called “corrupting opportunities.”
“I’ve heard he’s in favor of cutting us back further,” Stiles ventured.
“He’s trying to make a name for himself at our expense,” I said sourly. “The public likes the sound of a clean sweep after a scandal.”
“It feels rotten, though. It isn’t fair to keep tarring us all with the same brush.”
I agreed; it was unjust. Only three inspectors—Druscovich, Meiklejohn, and Palmer—had been found guilty of helping criminals evade capture in exchange for substantial bribes, but the press was all too willing to blame the entire Yard. I had a feeling this was why Director Vincent had assigned me—one of the two remaining senior inspectors—the task of finding the missing Madeline Beckford. It wasn’t lost on him that Stephen Beckford was a respected gentleman from Mayfair and a partner in a significant shipping concern. Restoring his wife to him might make it into the newspapers, if there was still one willing to publish anything good about us.
Praise for Down a Dark River
“A harrowing tale of unbridled vice that exposes the dark underbelly of Victorian society.”
“A must read for mystery fans!”
—Charles Todd, New York Times bestselling author of the Inspector Rutledge mysteries
“This twisty-turn-y mystery introducing a new and charismatic detective will delight readers also looking for well-researched history.”
—Susan Elia MacNeal, New York Times bestselling author of the Maggie Hope series
“Odden’s latest is intricately plotted and filled with a cast of wonderful characters, including a worthy and relatable hero.”
—Anna Lee Huber, USA Today bestselling author
“A spellbinding, brilliantly plotted Victorian murder mystery, Karen Odden’s Down a Dark River features a fascinating and relatable detective, a cast of complex characters, powerful prose, exceptional attention to historical detail, and enough twists and turns to keep you on the edge of your seat until the last astonishing page. Highly recommended!”
—Syrie James, bestselling author of The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte
“Sparkling prose, vivid description, a haunting and satisfyingly complex story . . . Down a Dark River is a must read for fans of any genre of crime fiction.”
—Edwin Hill, author of The Secrets We Share
“Gritty, compelling and vividly written . . . Like Anne Perry, Odden demonstrates a commanding grasp of authentic period detail.”
—Susanna Calkins, author of the Lucy Campion historical mysteries and Speakeasy Murders
“An original, street-smart detective, an intriguing mystery, and delicious Victorian flavor. All my favorite things!”
—Laura Joh Rowland, author of The Ripper’s Shadow, a Victorian Mystery
“No one does Victorian England like Karen Odden . . . Fans of Anne Perry and Charles Finch will welcome Inspector Michael Corravan.”
—Mariah Fredericks, author of the Jane Prescott mystery series
About the Author
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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