With the excellent fifth outing for amateur detectives Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins (after 2021’s Spring of Hope), Harrison approaches the level of ingenuity that’s been a hallmark of her Reverend Mother and Burren series.
Collins, who feels his best-known works have been eclipsed by Dickens’s literary success, is still delighted to get an invitation to spend Christmas with the Tale of Two Cities author’s family at their country home in Kent.
The other guests include Timmy O’Connor, an Irish raconteur whom Dickens met in Cork on a recent reading tour, and three of O’Connor’s nephews.
Collins’s hopes for a stress-free holiday are dashed when a guest is found beaten to death near the local church.
The violent nature of the murder leads Dickens to suspect the killer is a convict from the prison ship docked near his home, but Collins wonders if a less obvious suspect is responsible for the fatal bludgeoning. He eventually turns the inquiry toward Dickens’s guests.
Harrison never lets her cheeky premise distract from her heroes’ exhilarating detective work, and the ingenious solution to the mystery makes this the series’ best entry yet.
Victorian whodunit fans are in for a treat.
Cora Harrison. Severn House, $31.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-4483-1134-7