Review: Portrait of Peril by Laura Joh Rowland

Title: Portrait of Peril by Laura Joh Rowland
Victorian Mystery Series Book Five
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Genre: Historical, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 325 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


For fans of C. S. Harris comes Laura Joh Rowland’s fifth Victorian mystery where Sarah must confront her own ghosts–and face her most elusive and deadly adversary yet.

Victorian London is a city gripped by belief in the supernatural–but a grisly murder becomes a matter of flesh and blood for intrepid photographer Sarah Bain.

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.


Portrait of Peril by Laura Joh Rowland is a clever historical mystery. Although this newest release is the fifth novel in the Victorian Mystery series, it can be read as a standalone.

Photographer Sarah Bain and Detective Thomas Barrett have just finished exchanging their wedding vows when they become embroiled in another puzzling mystery.  The body of photographer Charles Firth has just been found in the crypt of the church and neither Sarah or Thomas can resist trying to find his killer. Sarah is dismayed to discover that Charles, whom she knew as photography store owner, is now a “spirit” photographer.  The case takes another turn once she meets his wife, Leonara and his book publisher Richard Trevelyan. Sarah, her friends Mick O’Reilly and  Lord Hugh Staunton look for answers within the world of spiritualists and a group lead by Jean Ritchie that tries to expose the charlatans who pose as mediums and spiritualists. When another murder occurs and someone Sarah cares for is arrested for the crime, she and Barrett are under pressure to locate the true killer.

Sarah’s marriage gets off on the wrong foot as her new mother-in-law Mildred continues to express her discontent with her son’s new wife. Thomas is caught between the two women as he tries to keep the peace but Sarah is furious and hurt when she finds out a secret he has been keeping. Throwing herself into the newest case takes her mind off her troubles as she tries to figure out who killed Charles. Could it be the man who has just developed a new machine that will hopefully detect a ghostly presence? Or is it Jean or one of her associates who has had unpleasant experiences with Charles’ wife Leonora?

In between trying to get her marriage on track and solve the latest murder, Sarah and her half-sister Sally Albert continue their efforts to clear their father Benjamin of the years’ old murder he is accused of committing. She also worries that her long time nemesis Inspector Reid will find her father and arrest him before she can find new leads that could exonerate him. Sarah knows the identity of the real killer, but she is continuing her search for evidence that will prove Benjamin’s innocence. But will the information she uncovers cause her to doubt her father’s assertion he is not the killer?

Portrait of Peril is a multi-layered mystery with well-developed characters and an intriguing storyline. Sarah continues to grow and evolve as she enters into matrimony with Thomas. Despite his worries about her safety, she has no intentions of giving up her career. Sarah’s investigation into Charles’ murder leads her down a thrilling and unexpectedly dangerous path. With plenty of twists and turns, Laura Joh Rowland brings this complex mystery to an action-packed conclusion. With an unanticipated turn of events in the final chapter, readers will be impatiently awaiting the next installment in the exciting  Victorian Mystery series.

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Filed under Crooked Lane Books, Historical, Laura Joh Rowland, Mystery, Portrait of Peril, Rated B, Review, Suspense, Victorian Mystery Series

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