Written by Diana Bretherick — Formerly a criminal barrister, Diana Bretherick now lectures in criminology at the University of Portsmouth. In 2012, she won the Good Housekeeping New Novel Competition with her debut, City of Devils, which was subsequently published by Orion in 2013, and was selected by the Specsavers Crime Thriller Book Club, as one of its books that same same year.
Set in Turin in 1888, The Devil’s Daughter is the second novel to feature Professor Cesare Lombroso, a real-life character who is regarded as the first criminologist. It also marks the return of James Murray, the young Scottish doctor who went to Turin to study with Lombroso and assist him in his research into the workings of the criminal mind.
Having returned home to Edinburgh and buried his father, James now finds himself trying to rebuild his relationship with a younger sister, Lucy, who feels deserted by her brother during their father’s final illness. However, on the day of the funeral he receives a letter from Sofia, a young woman working for Lombroso to whom he had become very attached. Her letter asks for his help and asks him to return to Italy. Knowing he can’t leave Lucy, he decides to take her with him along with Miss Trott, a rather nondescript spinster that his aunt insists join them as Lucy’s companion.
For six months, the streets of Turin have been a dangerous place for young, unaccompanied girls. Several disappearances have resurrected fears of a centuries old threat. The devil himself is said to have claimed them – sacrificed by the monks from a monastery in the nearby countryside. The latest girl to go missing is Sofia’s cousin, Chiara, and the police seem uninterested in pursuing the matter. James embarks on an investigation, while Lucy begins her own sleuthing because Miss Trott has been disappearing on mysterious errands. She is encouraged by Lombroso’s two teenage daughters, and ably assisted by her trusted copy of Pinkerton’s Detection Manual.
Lombroso is not so inclined to indulge James by assisting in his enquiries, preferring to focus his own attention on his latest study: the mind of the female criminal. He finds himself in a somewhat dubious establishment owned by Signora Concetta Panatti. Lombroso is determined to ensure that James doesn’t neglect his duties as his research assistant, but it seems that the their activities may be linked anyway. The more questions James asks, the more he puts himself and Lucy in danger.
The theme running through the story is as much James’ relationship with Sofia, as it is a murder mystery. It’s James’ feelings for Sofia which fuel his quest. Success for him won’t be the apprehension of a serial killer, but winning Sofia back. He doesn’t think things through, which will have you exasperated with him at times. There’s also a sense of naivety about him. He lands himself in trouble and then realises he should have thought before he acted. In contrast, Lucy, is fired by her curiosity and a strong desire to gain a degree of independence from the confines of the life she was living before the move to Italy. She knows she’s taking risks and she tries to deal with the consequences rationally. In some ways, she’s the stronger of the two characters.
This book’s strength is in the detail. It’s incredibly well researched, which considering Diana Bretherick’s background, is no surprise. She knows her subject and that is evident on every page of this 464-page novel. The writing is engaging and in some ways, educational. If you’re interested in criminology then this is a definite must read. Fans of Lynn Shepherd, Denise Meredith and Linda Stratmann would not be disappointed with this book. Diana Bretherick is definitely a new talent worth watching.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars