As a murder mystery, this is an odd one. While there is a murder to be solved, and the themes of the novel add to our understanding of the case, this is really more of a period drama with added murder-mystery.
A body is found shackled to a dingy on the Thames, a man dressed in a woman's gown and strewn with flowers in the style of Ophelia. Superintendent Thomas Pitt tries to discover the dead man's identity, and finds himself thrust into the theatrical world of actors and photographers.
What feels like the main focus of the novel, however, is the marital relationships of three couples: first, Pitt and his wife Charlotte, currently on holiday in Paris, who he misses greatly and thinks of with tenderness. Charlotte's mother, Caroline, who remarried after the death of her first husband to an actor 17 years her junior, feels insecure about the age difference and worries she may be too old-fashioned for him. Her widowed mother-in-law, Mariah Ellison, who is staying with them, is still haunted by memories of her abusive husband.
The lives of these three very different couples, linked into one extended family, intertwine and affect each other in subtle and moving ways. There is a lot of consideration given to concealment and censorship, both with regards to artistic creation and to personal relationships.
It really is the social dramas within this novel that stayed with me, rather than the murder, which is thrust onto the sidelines a bit. I feel as though the blurb would be better off mentioning this rather than presenting it as a traditional detective novel, but all the same I enjoyed it – it gives a very compassionate view of the challenges of living honestly in a society bound by strict social convention.
Next up: Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore