Book Reviews

The Woman in the Veil (Victorian Mystery #4) by Laura Joh Rowland

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Released: January 2020
Publisher: Crooken Lane Books
Pages: 352
Rating: 3.75/5

Following in the footsteps of Jack the Ripper, a mutilated woman is found lying on the bank of the River Thames in Victorian London. As a motley team of crime scene photographers investigate the grisly case, it soon becomes apparent that not all is what it seems. 


From the publisher:

London, June 1890

Sarah Bain and her friends Lord Hugh Staunton and Mick O’Reilly are crime scene photographers for the Daily World newspaper. After solving a sensational murder, they’re under pressure to deliver another big story. On a foggy summer night, they’re called to the bank of the river Thames. The murder victim is an unidentified woman whose face has been slashed. But as Sarah takes photographs, she discovers that the woman is still alive.

The case of “Sleeping Beauty” becomes a public sensation, and three parties quickly come forward to identify her: a rich, sinister artist who claims she’s his wife; a mother and her two daughters who co-own a nursing home and claim she’s their stepdaughter/sister; and a precocious little girl who claims Sleeping Beauty is her mother. Which party is Sleeping Beauty’s rightful kin? Is someone among them her would-be killer?

Then Sleeping Beauty awakens–with a severe case of amnesia. She’s forgotten her name and everything else about herself. But she recognizes one of the people who’ve claimed her. Sarah is delighted to reunite a family and send Sleeping Beauty home–until one of the claimants is murdered. Suddenly, Sarah, her motley crew of friends, and her fiancé Detective Sergeant Barrett are on the wrong side of the law. Now they must identify the killer before they find themselves headed for the gallows.


This is the fourth book in the series and even though I hadn’t read any of the previous ones, the opening chapters gave enough backstory to bring me right up to speed. Aside from wanting to know more about their previous adventures, especially the one with Jack the Ripper himself, after a few introductory pages I felt comfortable enough diving in at this point in the series.

From its opening pages, you’re immediately drawn into an extremely atmospheric Victorian London, walking alongside our characters through the gritty and dangerous streets of Whitechapel. A place already infamous for its association with Jack the Ripper, Laura Joh Rowland adds a unique take to its history with her Victorian Mystery series.

The reader is first introduced to Sarah Bain, a likable female photographer who is not only pursuing a traditionally male profession, but she’s also one of the first crime scene photographers in London. How cool is that? It’s grim, but it’s cool. We all probably recognize the crime scene photos of Jack the Ripper’s victims, but do any of us really know much about who took them and why?

As for how this dark tale unfolded, there were many twists and turns that kept me intrigued throughout, all before finally coming together with one extremely explosive (and very bloody) climax. I was frantically flipping through the final pages toward the end, desperate to find out what happened next. That goes to show you how well the writing was paced. Plus the author’s descriptions at times really sucked me in, making me feel like I was actually in Whitechapel with our characters.

The main characters in The Woman in the Veil were quite charming, if at times a little stereotypical. Because of the characterizations and the sometimes immature seeming dialogue, often I felt like I was reading a cozy mystery rather than a book about a seriously gruesome attack. There were a few saccharine scenes as well that kind of detracted from the whole “MUTILATED NAKED WOMAN JACK THE RIPPER WHITECHAPEL OMG” vibe, too. Not enough to make me dislike the story, but enough to make me think, “Huh… that isn’t like the characters on Ripper Street at all.”


Overall, it was an enjoyable and fast paced mystery that kept me interested from its first page to its final one (and not just because I have a slight Whitechapel obsession). The characters were easy to like and the setting was hard to beat. It just got a little cheesy sometimes with its dialogues and characterizations so it was easy to forget how incredibly gruesome this story actually was.

That’s the only reason this is not rated higher, but to be honest the more I think about it, the more I think I’m starting to like the idea of bloody yet cheesy mystery books. A bloody cozy mystery- I think I like it!

Either way, I’m a fan of what I read and I’ll definitely be checking out the previous installments, especially the one where the gang comes up against Jack the Ripper. This episode in their lives was often alluded to in The Woman in the Veil, but Sarah kept the events close to her chest. So if you or I want to find out who the Ripper really was, it looks like we better get reading!


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