River of Fallen Angels (A Victorian Mystery)

Written by Laura Joh Rowland
Review by Marlie Wasserman

Amateur sleuth Sarah Barrett is on the chase again in London, this time in 1891 as she and her associates attempt to solve the Torso Murder case. Pieces of women’s bodies have been washing up on the banks of the Thames, with no identification. Police Inspector Reid, who does not trust Sarah, argues that the Torso Murderer and Jack the Ripper are one and the same. In her role as a crime photographer, Sarah seeks to find the Torso Murderer and put to rest the notion that he (or she) is also Jack the Ripper.

Sarah seeks help from a brash lad and a disgraced lord as well as from her policeman husband, Detective Sergeant Barrett. This close-knit band of comrades investigates the few clues they have, often going down different paths. Sarah believes the polygamous reverend of a cult-like church is the Torso Murderer, while her husband sets his sights on an unscrupulous barber. Their disagreement appears to spell disaster for their marriage unless they can find common ground.

Rowland excels at evoking the bleak atmosphere of late Victorian London and the class differences of her characters. She crafts an engaging plot that brings many blameless characters to the brink of disaster, often the hangman’s noose. Her story relates peripherally to the Jack the Ripper case, without belaboring that well-covered saga. Although the novel reads quickly and well, it might be most enjoyable for those who have read the previous six books is the series. Rowland offers numerous intentionally mysterious references to connect the exploits of the characters in River of Fallen Angels to their exploits in the earlier books.