Garden of Sins: A Victorian Mystery

Written by Laura Joh Rowland
Review by Valerie Adolph

This action-packed suspense novel is set in London in November 1890, a time when fear of Jack the Ripper was still widespread. It is the sixth in a series of Victorian mysteries. Featuring Sarah Barrett and her husband Detective Sergeant Barrett along with other members of their household—Lord Hugh and his valet, and Mick O’Reilly with his girlfriend Anjali—this mystery focuses on Cremorne Gardens. This once-fashionable but now decrepit pleasure park has been reduced to little more than a freak show featuring the giant, tattooed strong man and Clarence Flynn, the dwarf but powerful actor.

Lest this be insufficient, Sarah’s father is on trial, suspected of raping and murdering a girl 24 years ago, and a member of the royal family is found on the stage in the Gardens in a highly compromising position. The action moves swiftly from a train wreck to a murdered Pinkerton detective to the Old Bailey courtroom.

But the author also includes vivid descriptions of the smoky, smoggy, smelly London of 1890 and thoughtfully probes moral issues such as the loyalty of a servant to his master. The plotting and pacing skillfully maintain a high level of tension without skimping on character development. The description and the wide variety of characters adds an extra—and unusual—dimension to the novel.

The reader is also drawn into the relationship between Sarah and her husband, Sarah and her father, and Sarah and her half-sister. Each of these relationships is fragile, and their uncertainties create an emotional counterpoint to the physical dangers she encounters.

The author’s blending of inner turmoil with outer dangers creates a novel that adds depth and subtlety to the Victorian mystery genre.