Spring of Hope (A Gaslight Mystery, 4)

Written by Cora Harrison
Review by K. M. Sandrick

A letter from Wilkie Collins as he lay dying in 1889 recalls an incident from 30 years before. It’s the time of the Great Stink, when members of Parliament could no longer hide behind lime chloride-soaked curtains to keep out the foul odor emanating from the River Thames and its centuries of pollution. It is a time when Wilkie and his friend Charles Dickens meet engineers who are determined to find the materials and methods that will remove the “chains of disease” that kill thousands of babies in the first year of their lives.

Spring of Hope is the fourth in the Gaslight Mysteries series that pairs Wilkie and Dickens as amateur detectives. Beginning in 2019 with Season of Darkness, the Victorian authors have found the killer of Dickens’ housemaid Isabella, exonerated Wilkie’s brother of murder, and solved a murder committed during a theatrical dress rehearsal.

The Wilkie-Dickens pairing in this novel has little to do with a crime and its resolution. A murder does occur, but nearly three-fourths of the way through storytelling. Nevertheless, the absence is hardly missed. The narrative is driven by Wilkie and his relationships: his tenderness with his mistress, Caroline Graves, and her daughter Carrie, his patience with the often robust and voluble Dickens, his trepidation and careful preparation when traveling on unfamiliar terrain.

The daunting engineering problems posed by the Thames and their possible solutions—an interceptor sewer, dredging, piping, carting away and selling sewage as fertilizer—lead readers to such locales as unsettling Maplin Sands and the “snorting, stinking, and deafening” workshop home of a dredger and hydraulic press known as The Boomer.

Spring of Hope dwells not in the detective’s gray cells but the inventor’s ingenuity and the bonds of friends.