Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Inspector Corravan #2
Published by Crooked Lane Books on October 11, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org, Better World Books
In the tradition of C. S. Harris and Anne Perry, a fatal disaster on the Thames and a roiling political conflict set the stage for Karen Odden’s second Inspector Corravan historical mystery.
September 1878. One night, as the pleasure boat the Princess Alice makes her daily trip up the Thames, she collides with the Bywell Castle, a huge iron-hulled collier. The Princess Alice shears apart, throwing all 600 passengers into the river; only 130 survive. It is the worst maritime disaster London has ever seen, and early clues point to sabotage by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, who believe violence is the path to restoring Irish Home Rule.
For Scotland Yard Inspector Michael Corravan, born in Ireland and adopted by the Irish Doyle family, the case presents a challenge. Accused by the Home Office of willfully disregarding the obvious conclusion, and berated by his Irish friends for bowing to prejudice, Corravan doggedly pursues the truth, knowing that if the Princess Alice disaster is pinned on the IRB, hopes for Home Rule could be dashed forever.
Corrovan’s dilemma is compounded by Colin, the youngest Doyle, who has joined James McCabe’s Irish gang. As violence in Whitechapel rises, Corravan strikes a deal with McCabe to get Colin out of harm’s way. But unbeknownst to Corravan, Colin bears longstanding resentments against his adopted brother and scorns his help.
As the newspapers link the IRB to further accidents, London threatens to devolve into terror and chaos. With the help of his young colleague, the loyal Mr. Stiles, and his friend Belinda Gale, Corravan uncovers the harrowing truth—one that will shake his faith in his countrymen, the law, and himself.
What happens Under a Veiled Moon is a series of real, historical tragedies. Well, the tragedies themselves, including the Sinking of the SS Princess Alice and the Abercarn mine explosion. But the causes of those disasters were thoroughly investigated at the time. While there was plenty of blame to go around – and did it ever go around – the plots that Inspector Corravan eventually ferrets out are not among them.
But it does blend those real disasters with a fascinating story about the power of the press – its use and particularly its misuse – to change minds and inflame emotions.
Corravan, Acting Superintendent of the Wapping River Police, opens the book by rushing to the scene of an explosion on the river. The SS Princess Alice, a passenger steamer, was rammed by the coal barge SS Bywell Castle near the south bank of the river. The Castle emerged from the collision with minimal damage, but the Alice broke in three and sank almost instantly. (It sounds like it would be the equivalent of an automobile accident with a double-semi crashing into a Smart Car only with more passengers in the tiny car.)
Between 600 and 700 people died in the wreck, and it is still the greatest loss of life of any British inland waterway shipping accident ever recorded.
It takes days to recover everything that can be recovered, including the bodies. The city is reeling from the shock, and everyone official is looking for someone to pin the responsibility on. And that’s where things get interesting, as well as downright confusing, for a whole lot of people – especially Inspector Michael Corravan.
Someone – actually a whole lot of rich and influential someones – seems determined to blame the disaster on the pilot of the Bywell Castle. A man who can’t seem to be found in the wake of the tragedy. And who just so happens to be Irish. Which shouldn’t matter. But is made to matter very much in the press – and is linked, step by painstaking step in those newspapers – to a recent railway disaster, to a mining disaster that occurs in the aftermath of the wreck, and finally to gang warfare in Irish immigrant districts and a three-year’s past terrorist bombing claimed by the Irish Republican Brotherhood.
It starts to look like an organized effort to blame the Irish for everything currently wrong with the state of Britain – for reasons that do not seem apparent on the surface. Until Corravan, with his roots in the Irish community, his position in the police and his relationships with a surprising number of very helpful and intelligent people – begins to see a pattern.
An insidious pattern that began in a shared tragedy but seems determined to end in a shared explosion of one kind or another – even if the conspirators have to engineer it for themselves.
Escape Rating A+: I think that Under a Veiled Moon is an even better story, both as historical fiction and as mystery, than the first book in the series, Down a Dark River. And I loved that one. This one is so compelling because what happens under that veiled moon takes place at the intersection of power corrupts, the ends justify the means, and there is nothing new under the sun. And it’s absolutely riveting from beginning to end.
We get to know Corravan a bit better in this one. We learn a lot more about where he came from and how he got to be who he is now that he’s in his 30s. The underpinnings of this one, the involvement with the Irish community in London and the various hopes and fears about the possibility of Irish Home Rule set alongside the prejudice and resentment of Irish immigrants really exposes some of what he keeps hidden in his heart.
And he’s just old enough to see his own past and resent his own errors of youth and judgment – and we like him the better for it.
At the same time, the mystery plot is deep and dark and downright frightening. Not just because it’s so easy to see how it might have happened then, but because we can all too clearly how its happened before – for real – and very much how it’s happening again.
It’s also a very smart puzzle with a whole lot of moving parts, most of which don’t seem to fit in the same jigsaw because honestly they don’t. Watching the way that the square peg red herrings are retrofitted to slot into the available round holes makes the mystery that much harder to solve.
I did recognize that the long arm of coincidence couldn’t possibly be as long as it was being made to appear, but the how and why of it is so steeped in the history of the time that it made the revelation and resolution that much more riveting.
This is a series that I seriously hope continues. It combines elements of C.S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr series with Anne Perry’s Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series along with her William Monk series. It deals with the issues of its day and the influences of the wider world on its London microcosm with the same depth as St. Cyr while focusing on a character who works for his living as a “copper” as do both Pitt and Monk, at a time period where the world is changing at an ever increasing pace to the one we know. There’s also a bit of an irony there, as Corravan is an Irish police inspector while Pitt ended up being Head of Special Branch, an office whose remit was to deal with terrorism – particularly that sponsored and/or perpetrated by those agitating for Irish Home Rule.
An issue that I expect Corravan to get caught in the middle of, again and again, through the hopefully many future books in this compelling series.