London, October 1890. Crime scene photographer Sarah Bain is overjoyed to marry her beloved Detective Sergeant Barrett--but the wedding takes a sinister turn when the body of a stabbing victim is discovered in the crypt of the church. Not every newlywed couple begins their marriage with a murder investigation, but Sarah and Barrett, along with their friends Lord Hugh Staunton and Mick O'Reilly, take the case.
The dead man is Charles Firth, whose profession is "spirit photography"-- photographing the ghosts of the deceased. When Sarah develops the photographs he took in the church, she discovers one with a pale, blurred figure attacking the victim. The city's spiritualist community believes the church is haunted and the figure is a ghost. But Sarah is a skeptic, and she and her friends soon learn that the victim had plenty of enemies in the human world--including a scientist who studies supernatural phenomena, his psychic daughter, and an heiress on a campaign to debunk spiritualism and expose fraudulent mediums.
In the tunnels beneath a demolished jail, a ghost-hunting expedition ends with a new murder, and new suspects. While Sarah searches for the truth about both crimes, she travels a dark, twisted path into her own family's sordid history. Her long lost father is the prime suspect in a cold-case murder, and her reunion with him proves that even the most determined skeptic can be haunted by ghosts from the past.
In Portrait of Peril, Sarah Bain and her housemates Lord Hugh and Mick O'Reilly have returned to working for the Daily World, the newspaper owned and published by Sir Gerald. Sally Albert, Sarah's half sister, is now a reporter at the Daily World as well.
But Portrait of Peril opens on the wedding of Sergeant Thomas Barrett and Sarah Bain. Just as the ceremony ends, the celebration is interrupted by calls of murder. As Barrett and his police colleagues rush to the scene, Sarah, Hugh, Mick and Sally rush over as journalists. Just as Sarah's job and fearlessness caused friction between her and Thomas Barrett, her job leads to conflict with her in-laws as well.
Sarah recognizes the victim as Charles Finch, the kindly photographer and photo shop owner, who gave her a deep discount on her first set of equipment. Sarah is determined to help find his killer. Their investigation leads towards a ghostly presence and to the victim's involvement in selling spiritualist photographs and the like.
The police investigation and Sarah's investigation lead to seances and meetings with spiritualists and their critics. As the investigations progress, the personal lives of Sarah and her friends deteriorates further. While Sarah and her sister have finally found their father, Benjamin Bain remains a fugitive from the law and their meetings must be clandestine help Benjamin Bain avoid arrest. Benjamin Bain remains the chief suspect in the murder investigation.
Sir Gerald's son Tristan has chosen to leave England for Switzerland and Lord Hugh is devastated. He takes to spending days and nights drinking and walking London. Sarah and Barrett have grown closer, preparing for a life together despite the opposition from Barrett's mother.
Hugh is often missing and Sally Albert is angered at Sarah's distrust of their father. Sarah learns that the murder may have been committed by her mother not her father. As Sarah investigates, she begins to question her own instincts -- as the daughter of a murder, is she inclined towards violent behavior herself?
In Portrait of Peril, I enjoyed learning more about Sarah Bain and Thomas Barrett. Laura Joh Rowland gives us characters that we can care about just as much as she weaves a mystery for the amateur sleuths to solve.
About the Author:
Laura Joh Rowland is the author of A Mortal Likeness, the second book in her mystery series set in Victorian England, starring photographer Sarah Bain. The third book, coming out in January 2019, is The Hangman’s Secret. Her other series features 17th-century Japanese samurai detective Sano Ichiro. Her work has been published in 21 countries, won RT Magazine’s Reader’s Choice Award, and made The Wall Street Journal’s list of the five best historical mystery novels. Laura holds a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Michigan. She is a former aerospace scientist, a painter, and a cartoonist. She lives in New York City with her husband Marty. Visit her website at www.laurajohrowland.com