Summer of Secrets (A Gaslight Mystery 3)

Written by Cora Harrison
Review by K. M. Sandrick

Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens visit Knebworth House in Hertfordshire as guests of playwright and author Lord Edward Bulwer-Lytton in August, 1856. Other invited guests include literary figures and actresses, all of whom have roles, on- or off-stage, in one of Bulwer-Lytton’s plays to be performed as a charity event in the manor house. Uninvited is Bulwer-Lytton’s wife Lady Rosina, recently released from a lunatic asylum.

While actors are reciting their lines in dress rehearsal of the play, a shot rings out, and a man is killed. Bearing the costume assigned to Bulwer-Lytton, the dead body at first is thought to be the lord himself. But it turns out to be his secretary, Tom Maguire.

In Summer of Secrets, Wilkie is a budding novelist. His ghostly Woman in White is three years hence, and The Moonstone, credited as one of the first detective novels ever published, does not come for 12 years. Author Harrison sets the groundwork for Wilkie’s future works by displaying his sleuthing skills, wit, and perspicacity. The plot drags while Wilkie and Dickens mull over possible suspects and their motives, often covering the same ground. But intriguingly, it provides insights into the practicalities of law enforcement of the time and offers alternative solutions to the recognized crime of murder and the unrecognized criminal treatment of women by their husbands.