The best books that venture into the darker side of Victorian life

Who am I?

I am by no means an expert on the Victorian era, but I am most certainly passionate – I have written seven novels set in this period and have researched different aspects of the social, domestic, and gender-related issues for each of those books. The Victorian era is such a fascinating time – from the huge differences in money and class, to the beginnings of women starting to initiate (or maybe even demand) change with the first murmurings of women’s suffrage and, of course, the Married Women’s Property Act 1882. Rich in storytelling possibility and the opportunity to bring societal, gender, and sexual issues to the fore, I find writing in the Victorian period immensely exciting.

I wrote...

A Widow's Vow

By Rachel Brimble,

Book cover of A Widow's Vow

What is my book about?

Newly widowed and left with nothing more than a key to a house she never knew existed, Louisa Hill has little choice but to start again in the Victorian city of Bath, England. Soon, she and her companion, Nancy come to the conclusion that they must resurrect their old way of life if they are to survive – but this time they will live and work in a brothel owned by Louisa. Their lives will never again be led on anyone else’s terms but their own…

A Widow’s Vow is book 1 in the Ladies of Carson Street trilogy.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper

Why did I love this book?

I bought this book after I attended a talk given by the author at the Bath Festival – Hallie Rubenhold is a historian I had read before but The Five was entirely different than her previous books.

The book delves deep into the lives of Jack the Ripper’s victims rather than exploring who Jack might or might not have been. I was deeply moved by these women’s stories and how easily they were branded as prostitutes by the press. Each endured a different set of circumstances that brought them to Whitechapel…circumstances of which anyone could find themselves the victim of.

This book is the inspiration behind my own trilogy.

By Hallie Rubenhold,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked The Five as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'An angry and important work of historical detection, calling time on the misogyny that has fed the Ripper myth. Powerful and shaming' GUARDIAN

Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers.

What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888.

Their murderer was never identified, but…

Book cover of Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders

Why did I love this book?

This book was recommended to me by a friend who knew I liked books set in the Victorian era. However, at the time, I had not read any books set in a music hall and certainly not a mystery. This book takes the reader deep into the underbelly of Victorian London and introduces a whole cast of eerie characters as well as some wonderful characters with hearts of gold.

The descriptions of the places our heroine is forced to visit are so exquisitely drawn that I could literally taste, smell, hear and see everything. The charm of Kitty and her friends gives a welcome reprieve from the darker aspects of the novel, yet it is those aspects that thrill the most!

By Kate Griffin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Limehouse, 1880: Dancing girls are going missing from 'Paradise' - the criminal manor with ruthless efficiency by the ferocious Lady Ginger. Seventeen-year-old music hall seamstress Kitty Peck finds herself reluctantly drawn into a web of blackmail, depravity and murder when The Lady devises a singular scheme to discover the truth. But as Kitty's scandalous and terrifying act becomes the talk of London, she finds herself facing someone even more deadly and horrifying than The Lady.

Bold, impetuous and blessed with more brains than she cares to admit, it soon becomes apparent that it's up to the unlikely team of Kitty…

Oliver Twist

By Charles Dickens,

Book cover of Oliver Twist

Why did I love this book?

It would be impossible for me to recommend books that venture to the dark side of Victorian life and not name a Dickens novel. This is a writer who lived, worked, and immersed himself in the time about which he writes, a contemporary who we can still (thank goodness!) read today. To read Oliver Twist is like receiving a commentary on what Dickens experienced, saw, and heard about almost 200 years on.

The writing, of course, is exemplary but it is more than that which affects me whenever I read this book – it is the sadness of the children, but also the palpable sense of survival that comes from them regardless of their backgrounds or the circumstances which led to where they are now.

By Charles Dickens,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Oliver Twist as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'The power of Dickens is so amazing, that the reader at once becomes his captive' WILLIAM MAKEPEACE THACKERAY

The story of the orphan Oliver, who runs away from the workhouse to be taken in by a den of thieves, shocked readers with its depiction of a dark criminal underworld peopled by vivid and memorable characters - the arch-villain Fagin, the artful Dodger, the menacing Bill Sikes and the prostitute Nancy. Combining elements of Gothic romance, the Newgate novel and popular melodrama, Oliver Twist created an entirely new kind of fiction, scathing in its indictment of a cruel society and pervaded…

The Yard

By Alex Grecian,

Book cover of The Yard

Why did I love this book?

I stumbled across this book while browsing through a charity shop – a murder/mystery set in Whitechapel when Jack the Ripper is still roaming free. I am by no means a follower of Ripper stories, legend or myth, despite recommending this book, but there is something about Victorian London in the 1880s that fascinates me.

The Yard is the first in a series that I have devoured over the last few years. I love Alex Grecian’s easy writing style and the main character, Detective Inspector Walter Day is one I wish I had created myself. He has a brilliant mind, a quick and quiet humour, and a soul that is truly good. Of course, he does have his faults, but they are all forgivable…at least for me!

By Alex Grecian,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Yard as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

If you were fascinated by The Five, you'll love this gripping and atmospheric historical thriller set in Victorian London in the wake of Jack the Ripper.

A killer is haunting London's streets . . .

A year after Jack the Ripper claimed his last victim, London is in the grip of a wave of terror. The newly formed Murder Squad of Scotland Yard battles in vain against the tide of horror.

When the body of a detective is found in a suitcase, his lips sewn together and his eyes sewn shut, it becomes clear that no one is safe from…

Tipping the Velvet

By Sarah Waters,

Book cover of Tipping the Velvet

Why did I love this book?

This fantastic book could be considered a lesbian love story, a coming of age book, or just what it is for me – a suspenseful, engrossing, page-turning read that I have read three times. The moment I first read this book, I fell in love with Sarah Waters' writing and have read everything she’s written except her last novel.

I found the character of Nan particularly affecting as her voice is so well constructed that you can feel every ounce of excitement, confusion, and pain through her dialogue. When you feel that intimate with a character, it is impossible to not become entirely immersed in their story. If you want to read a book, written in first person that will take you on a journey through London that will surprise and endear, inspire and enthrall, then this is a book for you.

By Sarah Waters,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Tipping the Velvet as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Piercing the shadows of the naked stage was a single shaft of rosy limelight, and in the centre of this was a girl: the most marvellous girl - I knew it at once! - that I had ever seen.'

A saucy, sensuous and multi-layered historical romance set in the 'roaring' 1890s, Tipping the Velvet follows the glittering career of Nan King on her journey from Whitstable oyster-girl to music-hall star to cross-dressing rentboy to East End 'tom'.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in London, Victorian, and murder?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about London, Victorian, and murder.

London Explore 647 books about London
Victorian Explore 126 books about Victorian
Murder Explore 731 books about murder

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Devil in the White City, In Cold Blood, and Crusade for Justice if you like this list.