2008: 2nd Quarter [33]

Perry, Anne. Dark Assassin. NY: Ballantine, 2006.

Several years after being kicked off the Metropolitan Police Force (which was at least partly his own fault), William Monk, erstwhile “private enquiry agent” in 1863 London, is finally back in uniform — though he’s not entirely happy about it. Having gotten involved with crime on the Thames in the last volume, he’s now an Inspector in the River Police (and the Met’s longtime rivals). After her encounter with the plague at her charity clinic, his wife, Hester, an ex-Crimean nurse, has been ordered to stay at home — at least temporarily. Not that she can help involving herself in whatever injustices come to her notice, however. Monk has witnessed a young couple topple off Westminster Bridge (accident? suicide? murder?) and his investigation leads him into reopening an earlier case of suicide, which was one of Superintendent Runcorn’s cases. (Monk and Runcorn had been friends and close colleagues, then rivals, then enemies, and are now moving slowly back into an uneasy accommodation.) The plot focuses on the urgent need to replace London’s totally inadequate sewer system, occasioned both by the Great Stink of 1858 and by the recent series of typhoid and cholera outbreaks. Of course, there’s lots of money to be made in such a mammoth (and competitive) public works project, and that can lead to sloppy attention to safety regulations and even murder. All of which is well and good (and the details are pretty interesting), but Perry repeats her old problem of letting the narrative get away from her. The plotline is confusing, salient points are repeated numerous times (just in case the reader wasn’t paying attention, I guess), and she has a tendency to make casual reference to earlier events or bits of business that have, apparently, been edited out of the text. On the other hand, she’s been bringing in a whole new group of supporting players lately, both among Monk’s subordinates in his new job and among his other acquaintances on the river, and on the staff of Hester’s clinic. I wish she’d bring back Sgt. Evan, though; he doesn’t deserve to be so cavalierly dumped. (6/27/08)

Perry, Anne. The Shifting Tide. NY: Ballantine, 2004.

This one is something of a departure in the long-running series about William Monk, private investigator in mid-Victorian London, and his wife, Hester, ex-Crimean nurse and avid social activist. Monk is equally familiar with the back streets and opium dens of the underworld and with the drawing rooms of Society, but the Thames is another whole world, a very tough and dangerous one, with which he has almost no experience. But economic times are tough, so he accepts a job from Clement Louvain to locate a shipment of ivory tusks stolen off one of his ships just returned from an African voyage. One of the crew was apparently killed during the theft, but Louvain wants his cargo back before he’ll let Monk take the murder to the police. And, of course, Monk solves the mystery and locates the ivory — and does it all by the halfway point in the narrative. And then things turn ugly. Hester, who has been running a charitable shelter for injured, abused, or ill poor women and prostitutes in a bad part of town, discovers that the woman Louvain brought in, and whose care he has paid for, has been murdered — but it almost doesn’t matter because she was dying of bubonic plague in any case. With the help of a few local men who stand guard and bring supplies, and a handful of very strong women who help her nurse the sick, Hester closes up the clinic from the inside, to contain the plague from spreading and possibly killing off half of Europe again. The pestilence almost certainly arrived on Louvain’s ship and Monk has to try to locate the other crew members, who may also be infected. Oliver Rathbone contribution in the courtroom is minimal this time around. It’s all Hester’s story. It’s a harrowing tale and Perry tells it very effectively. (6/25/08)

Perry, Anne. Death of a Stranger. NY: Ballantine, 2002.

This is Perry’s best “William Monk” novel in some time — in most ways. It’s 1862 and Monk, ex-cop and now a “private enquiry agent,” is hired by a somewhat mysterious woman supposedly to investigate a man with whom she’s romantically involved — a junior partner in a railway company about to open a new line from London to Derby, whom she fears (she says) may be involved in some sort of fraud. Monk investigates carefully but can find no evidence of anything but the occasional sharp dealing one expects from entrepreneurs. But in the process, some of his lost memories from his days as a journeyman banker begin to return; he’s had to do with railway construction finance before, and with the same company. Meanwhile, Hester Monk, Crimean nurse extraordinaire, has opened a shelter in a bad part of town for abused prostitutes who have no access to any other kind of assistance. Happenstantially, one of the senior partners in the same railway firm was murdered nearby and the resulting police presence (demanded by “good” society) has put a damper on trade, and more women are being beaten, some of them very badly. As often happens in Perry’s novels (she’s no stranger to nearly unbelievable coincidence in her plots), Monk’s case and Hester’s drift slowly together. And where the author often, regrettably, telegraphs the solution midway in the narrative, this time she kept me guessing until nearly the end. It’s a nicely complicated blend of the details of the 19th century rail boom, specialized prostitution, coercion by usury, bitter revenge, and Monk’s gradually returning memory. The only weak part, really, is the showdown in the courtroom, with the aid of Sir Oliver Rathbone, friend to both William and Hester in a somewhat complex emotional triangle that has evolved through the series. Much of what Rathbone pulls off before the bar is pure hearsay and wouldn’t be allowed in any courtroom, then or now. Still, if Perry Mason could get away with it, why not? (6/22/08)

Swanwick, Michael. The Dragons of Babel. NY: Tor, 2007.

Swanwick is certinly one of the most original fantasists working today, and “The Iron Dragon’s Daughter” was perhaps his best (even though the evangelicals loudly denounced it). This one, while not actually a sequel, is set in the same world, which is a mish-mash of modern America and Faerie. You know you’re there when the centaurs carry assault weapons, a high elf rides a Vespa, the haints play reggae, the royal palace includes rooms designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and the Cabinet of Curiosities displays both a stuffed capricorn and a Soyuz spacecraft. Will Le Fey is a young orphan subsisting in a rural village which is just trying to keep its collective head down while the endless war between East and West rages on. Then a war dragon (sentient, but with a half-human pilot) crashes and takes over the village for its own survival — and appoints Will its lieutenant. When the dragon is killed (more or less), Will is forced out . . . and so begins a series of adventures in the classic pauper-to-prince picaresque tradition, from refugee camp to the tutelage of a master con man (keep and eye on him), to a period as an underground rebel leader, to his attempt to pass himself off as the lost heir of His Absent Majesty. (And, of course, there’s more to the scam than he knows.) For all his occasional naivete, Will has innate cunning — although when he tries to win the heart and hand of his True Love, who happens to be one of the ruling elite in the towering city of Babel (or maybe Babylon), the reader knows it won’t be a sure thing. Swanwick’s patented tongue-in-cheek cynicism and ability to make even temporary secondary characters interesting will keep you reading far into the night. (6/20/08)

Perry, Anne. Funeral in Blue. NY: Ballantine, 2001.

This is one of more emotionally draining of the William Monk novels, set in London in 1861. It’s also more melodramatic than most, even for Perry. The case this time concerns Dr. Kristian Beck, close friend and colleague of Hester Monk and Lady Calandra Daviot, whose wife, Elissa, is murdered at an artist’s studio, together with one of the models. It turns out she was a compulsive gambler (one of the social themes this time around) and Kristian, being responsible for her debts, was on the brink of bankruptcy — an excellent motive. The story goes deeply into the couple’s background in Vienna during the heady revolutionary days of 1848 (a period Perry has also mined in her longer-running Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series), into the nature of Germanic anti-Semitism, and the tragedies that may be caused by jealousy. And Monk gets to add to his growing globe-trotting experience with a couple of weeks in Vienna. There are some weak points, of course: The author repeats herself far too often in describing Elissa’s ethereal beauty. And also Monk’s continuing anguish over his still mostly unknown past. Also, several of the characters whom the reader identifies at the beginning as being potential culprits are left to fade away. And the final solution is somewhat unsatisfying in its lack of passion. Still, the interpersonal relationships are generally quite well done — especially between Monk and his old Nemesis, Runcorn, who seem to be on a verge of a rapprochement. (6/14/08)

Dewey, Donald. The Art of Ill Will: The Story of American Political Cartoons. NY: NYU Press, 2007.

I’ve been a big fan of political cartooning for a long time, dating from reading Pogo in the daily papers back in the 1950s, and acquiring Bill Mauldin’s two published wartime collections when I was in college. Dewey is a general writer of popular nonfiction, not a specialist in this field, but he does a moderately good job of surveying the history of the editorial cartoonist’s art in U.S. history, from Ben Franklin and Paul Revere and Thomas Nast to Herblock and Pat Oliphant and Gary Trudeau. He seeks not only to present telling examples of each artist’s work but also each man’s influence, why those being lampooned sometimes tried to bring pressure to bear (Patton hated Mauldin and many papers relegated Doonesbury to the editorial section under pressure from advertisers), and how the public’s attitudes changed over time. There are some reservations, however. First, not all artists lived or worked in New York or Washington, but you would think so from the selection in this book. Second, he doesn’t seem to quite “get it” when he’s discussing certain periods of American history, especially the age of imperialist expansion at the turn of the 20th century. (Maybe because, as noted, he’s not an historian.) Many of the drawings in the very lengthy introduction are too small to read the text, but don’t worry — they all seem to appear again in the body of the book, which is divided into thematic chapters. (6/13/08)

Perry, Anne. Slaves of Obsession. NY: Ballantine, 2000.

Ever since I began reading this series, the opening volume of which was set in 1856, I wondered if William Monk and Hester the Crimean nurse (and now Mrs. Monk) would at some point run up against the American Civil War. Well, now it’s happened, and with a vengeance. It’s the spring of 1861 and London arms dealer Daniel Alberton is approached by Lyman Breeland, a Union officer, in the matter of a large purchase of rifled muskets. Unfortunately for him, Philo Trace, an agent of the new Confederate States got there first and made a down payment on the weapons. Alberton’s personal honor won’t allow him to renege on the first deal in order to satisfy the second — but Breeland, a coldly fanatical abolitionist, believes that anyone who disagrees with him must be evil and pro-slavery. Then Alberton is found tied up and murdered outside his warehouse and the Union agent apparently has taken the arms and boarded a ship back to America. To complicate matters, Alberton’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Merrit (where does Perry get these names?), is deeply infatuated with Breeland and has eloped with him. Monk, with Hester coming along as a chaperone for the return trip, sails for Washington himself to retrieve the girl and, if possible, Breeland. While there, the wandering Brits get caught up in the opening battle at Manassas — and Perry does an excellent job of describing the reality of 19th century warfare, as seen from just behind the lines and from a combat nurse’s perspective. Sir Oliver Rathbone’s skills as a trial lawyer play a smaller part in the story than usual, and the author does a better job than usual of stringing the reader along (she often telegraphs the solution rather early in the narrative). Although I kind of knew that neither Breeland nor Trace was likely to be the villain — not if the author expected to sell many copies in the U.S. As an aside, though, I wish the writer of the jacket copy could be bothered to read the book first. Then he might not identify the Union officer as “Breedlove.” And a couple of volumes ago, William Monk was referred to on the jacket as “Thomas,” the writer obviously conflating him with the protagonist of Perry’s other, longer-running mystery series. Very sloppy. (6/12/08)

Harrison, Kim. The Outlaw Demon Wails. NY: HarperCollins, 2008.

Ordinarily, I don’t read vampire novels, or gothics, or any of that stuff — but I make a major exception for this series, of which this is the sixth outrageously-titled volume. Rachel Morgan, a very talented earth witch, is a sort-of private eye in an alternate Cincinnati in which witches, vampires, were-folk, elves, and other non-humans make up half the population. Blame it on the bioengineered tomato plague of 1966. The story is set at Halloween, a very important week-long holiday in the Inderland, and Rachel is having a helluva time dealing with Al-the-demon, whom one of her enemies keeps summoning up and turning loose in the hopes he’ll take Rachel down. Perhaps if Rachel herself took over Al’s summoning name? But her aura is already becoming depressingly smut-laden, and she still has those two (or maybe three) unclaimed demon-marks. And Trent Kalamack, one of the last remaining elves and also wealthy supporter of illegal bioresearch, is getting underfoot. And Rachel is feeling guilty over the death of her vampire boyfriend, who died trying to protect her. And her closest friend and partner, Ivy Tamwood, a living vamp, has been trying hard to separate love and sex in her hungry pursuit of Rachel, who’s trying to be accommodating without entirely giving in to her urges. If all this sounds complicated, that’s because it is. And while much of the book seems to be marking time in developing the long-term plots, the last quarter of the story, in which Rachel and Trent find it necessary to journey into the ever-after, is a humdinger. And at the very end of things, it appears Rachel and Al are going to be embarking on an interesting new relationship. On the other hand — and I’ve commented on this in every one of my five previous reviews of Harrison’s work — she suffers from present-participle-itis and her word choices are frequently awkward, even wince-producing. Still, I will be waiting avidly for the next installment. (6/10/08)

Perry, Anne. The Twisted Root. NY: Ballantine, 1999.

In some ways, this latest installment of the William Monk high-Victorian murder mystery series is above average. While Perry has a habit of telegraphing the solution early in the narrative, this time the reader won’t find out what really happened until almost the last chapter. On the other hand, there are virtually no clues provided to the reader, so the solution is something of an eyebrow-raiser. The plot involves the theft of prescription medicines from the hospital where Hester Latterly (now Mrs. Monk, since William proposed at the end of the last book and they’ve just returned from their honeymoon) is working, the murder of a blackmailing coachman in Hampstead, the pending marriage of the young scion of a wealthy family (who employed the coachman) to an somewhat older widow (“older” is an important clue), and the relationship of the widow to the nurse who was stealing the medicines. It’s complicated but generally well worked out. There’s also a good deal of description of the surprisingly amicable married life of two highly individual people whose previous relationship was seldom less than prickly. (6/05/08)

Perry, Anne. A Breach of Promise. NY: Ballantine, 1998.

This one is somewhat different from the others in the William Monk/Hester Latterley murder mysteries set in Victorian London of the late 1850s. For starters, the courtroom scenes come near the beginning, while the murder itself doesn’t occur until three-quarters of the way through. Killian Melville, a brilliant young architect whom many consider a genius in his art, finds that the mother of the young woman with whom he has become close friends assumes he’s paying court and has already begun planning the wedding, even to the extent of placing announcements in the newspapers. When he tries to explain that he’s not interested in marrying anyone, the parents sue for breach of promise. Knowing this would ruin him personally and professionally as well as financially, Melville asks Sir Oliver Rathbone, brilliant London barrister, to defend him, and Rathbone, against his better judgment, agrees. But Melville isn’t telling him everything and Rathbone, who has nothing he can build a defense on, engages private detective Monk to investigate everyone in the case. Meanwhile, nurse Hester is looking after a young army officer who has lost an arm and whose face has been disfigured, and whose equally young but far more naive wife hasn’t a clue how to care for him or even what his experiences have been. Hester, naturally, tackles not only the medical and physical therapy issues but all the family’s other problems as well — including the present whereabouts of the family’s cook’s sister’s two children, abandoned twenty years before. Perry always includes headline social issues as background in her novels, and in this case it’s society’s treatment of gender identity, enforced limitations in sex roles, and bias against the handicapped — all of them still mostly with us today, though not to the extent they were 150 years ago. The author has a bad habit of telegraphing the solutions early in the narrative, but I confess that this time the crucial bit of information caught me by surprise — probably because of the adept insertion of a believable red herring. There are some structure and plot problems, though. Perry solves the mystery in the last few pages but there is no indication whether the socially prominent malefactor will even be prosecuted, or what happens to the innocent members of the family, who are presented sympathetically. She also depends (again) on extremely unlikely coincidence for her pivotal plot points. Still, this is one of the better books in the series. (6/02/08)

Perry, Anne. Cain His Brother. NY: Ballantine, 1995.

Perry always includes some sociopolitical evil in her mystery novels about Victorian London, to give her more enlightened characters something to fulminate against. This includes especially Hester Latterley, ex-Crimean War nurse, sometimes her friend Oliver Rathbone, one of the city’s leading criminal attorneys, and occasionally William Monk, ex-police inspector turned private detective. This is the sixth in this series and where Monk was the major focus and POV character in the first few books, that role is now pretty evenly divided among the three of them. This series is also unlike the author’s longer-running “Thomas Pitt” series (set a generation later) in that as much as one-third of the plot is set in the courtroom, Perry-Mason-style. This time, Angus Stonefield, successful and morally irreproachable self-made businessman, has disappeared and his wife (who is perhaps his widow) is becoming frantic since until he’s declared dead she can’t make decisions about the business to provide for herself and her five children. Angus had a twin brother, Caleb, living a violent and ne’er-do-well life down by the docks in Limehouse, and Angus apparently visited him regularly, out of loyalty and perhaps guilt over his own success. Did Caleb murder his brother? Monk takes on the case while Hester joins a couple of socially aware society ladies in running a makeshift hospital in Limehouse during a typhoid epidemic. Of course, Caleb is eventually captured and put on trial for murder, but the evidence is still highly circumstantial since no body has been found. And then things start to get complicated. Unfortunately, through various bits of dialogue and speculation by the characters, Perry telegraphs the “maguffin” by about the third chapter. It’s not a bad book, but the pacing is pretty bumpy and the resolution is not entirely believable. Perry seems to have hit a lazy patch. (6/01/08)

Perry, Anne. The Silent Cry. NY: Ballantine, 1997.

It’s 1860 and there are sections of London that are like a foreign country to the better elements of society. The deep slums are so dangerous that even the cops don’t enter alone. But private inquiry agent William Monk never hesitates to go anywhere in pursuit of the truth. This time, the case involves a father and son, both beaten to a bloody pulp in an alley, but the son has survived — barely. Who did it? There was also a series of violent rapes of part-time prostitutes, which the police don’t bother to investigate, because who cares what happens to a prostitute? Are the two connected? London of a century and a half ago is both familiar and very strange, and the author does her usual good job of leading the reader through it. However, Perry has a knack both for constructing interesting mystery plots and for giving away the game, and in this one it’s pretty obvious who one of the Bad Guys is almost from the moment the character is introduced. But the details — of course — don’t come out until the trial, in which Sir Oliver Rathbone succeeds again in astonishing the courtroom. Perry Mason would be proud. (5/28/08)

Perry, Anne. Weighed in the Balance. NY: Ballantine, 1996.

Private inquiry agent William Monk is becoming something of a traveler; a couple of books ago, he went off to the wilds of Scotland on a case, and this time he takes his investigations to Venice and Germany. (From the enthusiasm with which she describes the city, I suspect the author must have visited Venice herself and gotten hooked on it.) Other than that, there’s a certain Ruritanian element to the story this time. Oliver Rathbone, recently-knighted defense attorney, takes the case of a countess from a minor German state who has slandered the widow of the recently deceased husband by insisting she murdered him, and who is now facing a ruinous civil action. It’s the great love story of the age, the crown prince who gives up the throne for the woman he loves, choosing to live in exile in Venice and Britain, still convinced a dozen years later that his people will invite him back. Monk investigates on Rathbone’s behalf, searching for evidence of the defendant’s claim, and uncovering apparent proof that the prince was in fact murdered — but the widow is the only one who could not have done it, which doesn’t help the countess. (I didn’t find the argument for murder really very convincing, however.) Meanwhile, Hester is nursing a young man who is slowly recovering from what sounds like polio and who has lost the use of his legs. She brings in a damaged young woman from a previous book as a morale-boosting visitor and the two (naturally) develop a closer relationship. Monk finds himself ensnared by the comfortably idle lives of the rich (it’s a weakness with him, especially regarding the women he meets), Rathbone agonizes over whether he was a fool to take on an impossible case, and Hester kibitzes both of them while pursuing her matchmaking. Unfortunately, Perry rather pulls the solution to the mystery out of a hat in the last couple of pages with no carefully dropped clues for the reader. And this is at least the third Monk novel in which the story line turns on botched abortions (which has to make one wonder whether Perry is anti-abortion rights today, using the lack of medical skills in the mid-Victorian period to make a specious case). (5/23/08)

Collins, Max Allan. The London Blitz Murders. NY: Berkley, 2004.

This is a kind of fun little murder mystery (only 260 pages), set in London in February 1942, and featuring Agatha Christie Mallowan, doyen of mystery novel writers. But actually, the most interesting material is the setting and the recounting of day-to-day life on the British home front during the blackout — though not actually during the “Blitz,” the title notwithstanding. However, the mystery itself, as Collins narrates it — it’s based closely on a true series of sex murders — is actually rather lightweight and completely twistless. The author, in fact, introduces the killer early on and makes the case against him halfway through. Like any good mystery reader, I immediately began watching for red herrings — but there were none. And the identified character did, in fact, turn out to be the killer. There was almost no puzzle, either for the police or the reader. Collins seems also not to have given much thought to the quality of his writing this time out; as a longtime professional editor, I longed to take a blue pencil to his not infrequent awkwardnesses of expression, his frequent overuse of pet phrases (often in the same paragraph), and the jerky pacing of the background story. With a little work, this could have been a much more entertaining story. (5/20/08)

Perry, Anne. The Sins of the Wolf. NY: Ballantine, 1994.

Although I read all of Perry’s “Thomas Pitt” murder mysteries first, I’m nevertheless developing a liking for this series, set a generation earlier, in London of the late 1850s. William Monk, police inspector turned private eye, and still dealing with amnesia in this fifth outing, is not a particularly likeable person. He’s rude, arrogant, and self-righteous — but so is his frequent investigative, nurse Hester Latterley, lately returned from the Crimea. The third leg of the narrative tripod, defense attorney Oliver Rathbone, is much less so, but he can be rather stuffy, too. This time, Perry sets the crime, Monk’s investigation, and the subsequent trial in Edinburgh, which gives her the opportunity to explain on numerous occasions the function of the Procurator Fiscal and to bring in the uniquely Scots trial verdict of “not proven.” (She also makes Monk travel by rowboat and horseback to the remote village in the far north of the Highlands where she herself now lives.) The plot, which involves family secrets and a murder committed to protect them, is one of Perry’s better efforts in recent years. This is also the first novel in either of her mystery series in which there appears to be no prominent social issue or failing for the characters to struggle with and fulminate against. (5/17/08)

Perry, Anne. A Sudden, Fearful Death. NY: Ballantine, 1993.

After reading all the “Thomas & Charlotte Pitt” Victorian London murder mysteries, this series, starring police inspector-turned-private detective William Monk (and set thirty years earlier), are quite different. Where most of us sympathize strongly with Pitt and his wife, and would like them is we were to meet them, Monk is another kettle of fish. He’s angry, arrogant, superior, self-righteous, often cruel in his methods, occasionally violent, and generally distasteful. The fact that he’s usually right, and that other investigators respect his professional brilliance doesn’t make him any more likeable — and they don’t.. When he was forced to resign from the police, it was largely his own fault for having alienated so many people. Anyway, Monk is own his own now, dependent on Lady Callandra to underwrite his career when clients are scarce, and frequently teamed in his cases with Hester Latterley, Crimean nurse (also rather arrogant on occasion), and with Oliver Rathbone, a highly gifted defense attorney (. . . and also rather arrogant on occasion). This case concerns the murder of Prudence Barrymore, another Crimean nurse, whose body was found stuffed down the laundry chute in the London hospital where she was employed. Prudence’s greatest desire her entire life was to become a doctor — a totally impossible ambition for any woman in 1858, no matter how brilliant. That gender inequality is one of Perry’s social themes this time out — another being the complete lack of professionalism among nurses of the day, who were ignorant, low-born, and frequently drunk, and who were little more than hospital charwomen. Prudence worked closely with a highly regarded surgeon, who may be the murderer — or maybe not. The third theme is abortion rights, about which Perry never quite clarifies her personal position: Is there a difference between free abortions performed in the back of butcher shops for the impoverished, exhausted mother with far more children than she can feed, and abortions for convenience for the wealthy, performed by skilled surgeons and for which they pay high prices? In any case, it’s a generally well-written novel with several subplots, romantic and otherwise, and Hester and Rathbone get largely equal billing. (5/14/08)

Perry, Anne. Defend and Betray. NY: Ballantine, 1992.

This Victorian mystery is one of Perry’s more intense novels. It features William Monk, police inspector turned private inquiry agent, who is investigating the death of a retired general, attending a dinner at the home of a friend, who fell off a stair landing and was impaled on the halberd of a suit of armor standing below. Of course, it turns out to be murder, and the list of suspects is limited by circumstances to those present for dinner. But then the general’s wife confesses, and Monk’s only avenue is to discover why it happened and whether there were mitigating circumstances, a project in which he is aided, as usual, but nurse Hester Latterly. The wife’s true motive becomes apparent abut halfway through the book, but there’s plenty of investigating left to do. Perry always includes a social issue, or several, as an underlying theme in her novels, and this time it’s multigenerational child abuse — and she handles it skillfully, though with enough candor that some readers may be squicked by it. And then there’s quite a fascinating trial, in which Oliver Rathbone has to bring all his considerable skills to bear. This addition of courtroom drama is the major difference of the Monk novels from those about Thomas Pitt, set a generation later, and it’s a good one — though it’s worth pointing out that, also unlike Pitt, Monk is not entirely the star but shares the bill equally with Hester. (5/10/08)

Perry, Anne. A Dangerous Mourning. NY: Ballantine, 1991.

It’s interesting to compare this newer series of period murder mysteries to Perry’s longer-running “Pitt” series. Both are set in Victorian London, but this series, about William Monk, take place roughly a generation before those featuring Thomas Pitt. But there are quite a few points in common: Pitt and Monk are both strict followers of justice and the truth, let the chips fall where they may — though Monk has a rather darker personality and considerably more arrogance than Pitt. Both have a good deal of trouble dealing with weak or incompetent superiors (Monk) or dangerously strong superiors (Pitt). Where Pitt has his wife, Charlotte, and his sister-in-law, Emily, to act (often without his approval) as undercover investigators in the homes of Society, Monk has the assistance of Hester Latterly, a nurse trained under fire in the Crimea, and Oliver Rathbone, defense attorney. And Pitt’s sometime ally, Aunt Vespasia, is balanced by Hester’s friend, Callandra Daviot, both ladies being well ensconced within the upper ranks of Society and neither being willing to bend to convention when it doesn’t suit them. Perry also makes a point of including a social theme in each of her novels. In this case, it’s the military incompetence and sheer waste of men indulged in by Britain in the Crimean War. The specific plot involves the apparent murder of the widowed daughter of a very powerful man and the realization that the culprit has to be someone within the house — either a member of the family or one of the servants. Monk and Sgt. Evan spend a great deal of time eliminating suspects and motives, and uncovering dirty little secrets, until they’re left with almost nothing — and therein lies the solution. And in the course of the investigation, Monk has it out with his boss and is dismissed from the force, after which he sets up as a private inquiry agent. In the quality of its writing and the development of the characters, especially those below-stairs, this is one of Perry’s more successful efforts. (5/08/08)

Rosenblum, Robert & H. W. Janson. 19th-Century Art. NY: Abrams, 1984.

I’m not an artist, I’m a historian, with a special interest in physical social and cultural history: Costume, domestic architecture, social mores, all that stuff. Photography is the obvious source for that, at least from the Civil War on, but an artist’s interpretation can also be very useful. For those reasons, I learned early in my career to pay attention to the Realists, especially Bingham, Breton, Millet, Tissot, Eakins, Degas, Whistler, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, and some of Monet and Manet. While studying that lot, I also developed a taste for the Pre-Raphaelites and the later artists of myth and dream, like Burne-Jones, Leighton, and Alma-Tadema, who don’t get much attention these days. I lose interest when I get to the Post-Impressionists like Seurat, Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Munch, however. (So sue me.) All of which is to say that the authors, both of whom are NYU professors in the fine arts, have done an excellent job of surveying the entire century in which all of the above had their careers. The discussions cover not only artistic influences but political and familial factors as well as relevant biographical details. There are more than 500 illustrations, though fewer than 90 are in color, and many of them are rather small — which seems inadequate for a coffee-table-sized art book. And, frankly, I’m puzzled how any survey of the 19th century could completely ignore Frederick Remington and Charles Russell. Otherwise, it’s an excellent book for slow perusal. (5/04/08)

Perry, Anne. The Face of a Stranger. NY: Fawcett, 1990.

I recently finished reading the whole of Perry’s “Thomas & Charlotte” Pitt series, set in London of the 1880s and ‘90s, so it seems reasonable now to work my way through this second, and in some ways subsidiary, series. Like Pitt, Inspector William Monk is a London cop — but of a full generation before. This first novel is set in 1856, shortly after the Crimean War, when Pitt (as near as I can estimate) would have been a very small boy running around the estate where his father was the gamekeeper. Monk was apparently born around 1820 in a fishing village in Northumberland, and that difference of some three decades saw enormous changes in England, both socially and economically. (Similar to the changes in the world in which your grandparents lived in the 1930s, compared with 2008.) At the beginning of the story, Monk wakes up in hospital, having been involved in a terrible traffic accident in which he struck his head traumatically. Now he remembers nothing — not even his name or what he looks like. By sheer luck and authorially mandated coincidence, he identifies his profession and finds his way to his rented rooms, but he’s lost all his detective skills, all memory of his earlier cases. He has even apparently undergone a basic change in personality and doesn’t care for what he discovers about his own character and reputation. Now, amnesia simply doesn’t work like that, as Perry ought to know — or as she ought to have found out while doing her research. Amnesiacs don’t lose their own names any more than they forget how to walk or speak their native language. However, if one is willing to commit a willing suspension of disbelief, as they say, and accept what the author says has happened to Monk, then the portrait she paints of a strongwilled, intelligent, ambitious man struggling to find himself (and to defend himself) is quite fascinating. The actual plot involves the bloody beating-to-death of Major Joscelin Grey in his rooms by persons unknown and it doesn’t take Monk long to eliminate all the possible suspects — not a happy situation for a detective. As the investigation progresses (which Monk appears to manage more by instinct than by mounting an organized investigation), he meets a young married woman who obviously knew him before his accident — but, of course, he doesn’t remember her, though he certainly wishes he did. However, it’s the woman’s sister-in-law, Hester Latterly, who is obviously intended to become Monk’s sidekick. She’s a willful sort who went off to the Crimea to nurse the wounded and sick under Florence Nightingale and who has a very low tolerance for crap of any sort. (One has to wonder if she might have known Aunt Vespasia in her younger years. . . .) The plot and the action are pretty well worked out but it’s the detailed characters who will hold your attention. And somehow, given Monk’s rather dark psyche, I don’t think he and Pitt would get along. (5/06/08)

Perry, Anne. Buckingham Palace Gardens. NY: Ballantine, 2008.

Over the past few months, I have read my way through the entire “Thomas and Charlotte Pitt” series set in late-Victorian London, of which this is the twenty-third and latest volume. Perhaps because I have finished one book and immediately picked up the next, some of the strengths and weaknesses of the series, as well as the numerous internal changes in it, are more apparent than to someone who began with The Cater Street Hangman nearly thirty years ago. About a dozen years have passed in the Pitts’ lives, Thomas having been stripped of his position as Inspector and then Superintendent in the Metropolitan Police Force and now a mainstay of Special Branch, dealing more with politics than with ordinary crime. His specialty is still solving murders, though, and his boss brings him in immediately when a prostitute is found dead and nearly dismembered in a linen closet in the guest wing of Buckingham Palace. The Prince of Wales is hosting a group of four entrepreneurs and their wives who are organizing support for the proposed Cape-to-Cairo railway — an engineering project that would dwarf the Suez Canal (it would stretch twice as far as the distance from New York to San Francisco) and immensely enrich both English commerce and the individuals who build and control it. It seems the Prince, a thoroughly weak and dissolute character, threw a hooker party and now everything has to be hushed up before the Queen comes home. Pitt, naturally, intends to solve the murder and let the backlash fall where it may. To this end, he brings in Gracie Phipps, the young woman who has worked for the Pitts as a maid-of-all-work since the age of thirteen (and who is intensely proud of both her employers), as an undercover agent among the servants at Buck House. (Charlotte has no part at all in this one, which has been an increasing problem in the series ever since Pitt moved to Special Branch.) The unfolding of the plot is complex and thoroughly interesting, and while certain points in its solution became evident halfway though, the final bricks in the wall were nicely concealed. The characters are also multidimensional. In fact, this is the best book in the series in a decade. (5/04/08)

Perry, Anne. Long Spoon Lane. NY: Ballantine, 2005.

I’ve been annoyed for some time — for the past dozen volumes in this generally first-rate series set in London of the 1880s and ‘90s — that the author had served her readers so poorly by inventing the Inner Circle, a secret society trying to take control of Great Britain. The conspiracy became a deus ex machina upon which Perry could blame anything, which removed the necessity of proper plot construction, and Pitt stopped being a cop and became a secret agent, a sort of ur-Bond, in the employ of Special Branch. Sir Charles Voisey, the head of the Inner Circle, especially, was presented as the personification of melodramatic evil — Snidely Whiplash with a nice house, servants, and a carriage. Pitt (and his boss, Narraway) orchestrated Voisey’s fall from power, in any case, and in this somewhat wild-eyed volume, Voisey’s rival, Superintendent Wetron, spins his own conspiracy: A group of anarchists (read “terrorists”) are accused (justly) of blowing up houses and (unjustly) callously killing civilians. Wetron’s motive is to ensure passage of an Act of Parliament giving the police greatly increased firepower, as well as enormous stop-and-search powers and the authority to enter private homes and ask any questions they like. “Snatched from the headlines,” as they say. (I imagine Perry is no fan of the present U.S. neocon administration.) The immediate result is to push Pitt and Voisey into a grudging and very suspicious partnership in order to defeat the bill, each for his own reasons. That part of the story is quite well done in its depiction of the very opposite characters of the two men — and Perry makes up for the unbelievability of much of the rest of the plot by rather decisively killing off the entire Inner Circle conspiracy at the end. Ya-hoo! (5/02/08)

Perry, Anne. Seven Dials. NY: Ballantine, 2003.

I’ve worked my way through this entire series now, and while the first dozen or so (this is no. 23) were generally well done — good, reasonably accurate descriptions of London of the 1880s, pointed contrast between Society’s drawing rooms and the miserable existence of the laboring classes, vivid character development of both working cops and the elite — the last few have shown a definite decline. Thomas Pitt, Inspector and then Superintendent at the Bow Street station, and a both very talented and highly empathic detective, has now been stripped of his position by the Forces of Evil (the entirely fictional and extremely melodramatic “Inner Circle”) and dumped in the lap of Special Branch, where he’s beginning to learn how to be a secret policeman instead of a public one. The “Seven Dials” area of London is a pretty minor player in this one, too; the author should have called it “Alexandria,” because that’s where Pitt is sent to gather information on a beautiful and patriotic Egyptian woman living in London who is caught red-handed wheeling a dead bottom through her back garden in a wheelbarrow. Also implicated is a high Foreign Office official, which is how Pitt and his “M”-like boss, Narraway, get involved. If the details of the motive for the murder become public, the government could fall, Egypt could erupt in revolt, and Suez might even be lost. Can’t have that, right? The action is low-key, the plot development takes its time, and the reader will enjoy the scenery, both internal and external. At least The Inner Circle manages not to appear this time, and it’s fun watching Pitt trying to deal with a totally foreign milieu — even though Perry could have spent a lot more time painting its details. (4/30/08)

Perry, Anne. Southampton Row. NY: Ballantine, 2002.

This is the twenty-second entry in this series about the crime-detecting adventures of Inspector (eventually Superintendent) Thomas Pitt of the Metropolitan London Police in the last quarter of the 19th century, and it’s becoming apparent that the author is running out of steam. Either she’s out of good plot ideas or she simply doesn’t care anymore. Whatever the case, Pitt is no longer a cop, having been squeezed out of his job by the evil machinations of (. . . drum roll . . .) THE INNER CIRCLE. He’s been moved over to Special Branch, originally formed to combat anarchists and Irish terrorists and which is now sort of a combination of Nixonian “plumbers” unit and secret police. And he seems well on his way to becoming a proto-Bond with said secret society standing in for SMERSH. Specifically, Charles Voisey (think Blofeld), who was humiliated in The Whitechapel Conspiracy by being knighted by Queen Victoria (yeah), is using his shiny new rep to run for Parliament as a Tory against an inexperienced and not very savvy Liberal candidate. I would expect Special Branch to be backing the Tories, but they’ve got to stop Voisey from getting elected as that’s The Thin End of the Wedge. And that’s the reluctant Pitt’s job. More than that, Charlotte and the kids have gone off to the Devon moors on holiday and find themselves in danger as well — though they don’t seem to be able to do very much about it. There actually are a couple of murders in the mix, but at least one of the solutions is covered up in the end to protect the government (by essentially blackmailing Voisey). Perry always includes a socioeconomic theme of one kind or another and this time it appears to be spiritualism — but it’s hard to get worked up about something even most Victorians didn’t take seriously. I don’t know: If the series continues to decay at the present rate, I give it maybe two or three more volumes before Perry’s fans throw up their hands in despair. (4/27/08)

Perry, Anne. Farrier’s Lane. NY: Fawcett, 1993.

This is the thirteenth outing for Inspector Thomas Pitt of the Metropolitan Police in London of 1890 — and also his last before being promoted to Superintendent of the Bow Street station. The social theme this time (Perry always includes one) is the superstitious viciousness of Victorian antisemitism and the violence that sometimes resulted. Five years before, a gentleman was not only murdered in a blacksmith’s yard at night, he was crucified to the stable door with horseshoe nails. Only a Jew would do that, right? Public horror, combined with a rush to judgment on the part of the police and the courts, results in the hanging of an actor whose sister has been agitating ever since to prove him innocent. Then Pitt nearly witnesses the death by poisoning of one of the appeals court judges at the theatre one evening, and the whole thing has to be reopened, whether anyone likes it or not. His wife, Charlotte, takes part together with her mother, Caroline (sister Emily is off in the country, pregnant) — who has also developed an unfortunate attachment to another Jewish actor, about which Charlotte is naturally upset. The investigation of what eventually becomes three murders is interestingly done — and without the deus ex machina of the Inner Circle, this time. (4/23/08)

Perry, Anne. Silence in Hanover Close. NY: St. Martin, 1988.

Inspector Thomas Pitt of the London Metropolitan Police in the late 1880s faces one of his more grueling cases in this ninth book in the series when he’s asked to reopen the investigation into the murder three years before of a high official in the Foreign Office. His death was thought to be the result of a bungled burglary, but maybe not. Now the widow is contemplating remarriage, to another F.O. employee, and the Powers That Be want to make sure there will be no unexpected embarrassment on either side — or that’s what Pitt is led to believe, anyway. Hanover Close is a short cul-de-sac in which the three principal families are interrelated and know each other well, which limits things. Pitt speaks to the servants, all of whom had told their stories before, but one ladies’ maid remembers an oddity — a woman in cerise, flitting about in the middle of the night. And the next day, the maid is dead, too. Charlotte Pitt, who married considerably beneath herself, is familiar with the ins and outs of Society and contributes her own skills, but it’s her sister, Emily, bored widow of Lord Ashworth (murdered in a previous book in the series) who risks the most, going undercover as a ladies’ maid herself. And then Pitt finds himself in a very serious situation, suspected of murder himself. There’s much less of the social commentary that Perry usually lards each of her novels with, except for an interesting and somewhat amusing view of below stairs through the eyes of a relatively high-born lady. (4/19/08)

McCafferty, Megan. Fourth Comings. NY: Crown, 2007.

We first met Jessica Darling in Sloppy Firsts when she was a fifteen-year-old New Jersey sophomore, smart, angst-ridden, and very confused about what life was supposed to be. She thought too much and over-analyzed everything. The second book took her through high school graduation and the third through Columbia (where she worked hard to graduate a semester early in order to save $15,000 on her student loan). Now Jes is twenty-two and living for a year in a Park Slope sublet, sleeping in the lower bunk bed while Hope, her artistic BFF, takes the upper. She’s dependent on her married-well older sister for a ridiculous salary babysitting her niece while struggling as a freelance semi-journalist, she blows the one good job interview that comes along, and most of her old friends are safe in grad school. Things have changed a lot in the past half-dozen years, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is her connection/separation relationship with the predictably unpredictable Marcus Flutie, now a twenty-three-year-old freshman at Princeton. When she went to break up with him for her own peace of mind, he sabotaged her attempt by proposing marriage. She insisted on a week to think about it and this is the story of that week, made up partly of her hilariously searing observations about contemporary events and partly of reflections on just how she arrived at this point in her life. McCafferty is truly a master of the language and the book is a delightful read just to watch her play with the language — but it’s much more than that. Her grasp of character and psyche is extremely apt and her view of New York intellectual weirdness in the first decade of the century is spot-on. Will there be a fifth volume? Who knows? What Ever. (4/16/08)

Perry, Anne. Ashworth Hall. NY: Ballantine, 1997.

As the author gets farther and farther into this popular series of police procedural murder mysteries set in late Victorian England, she seems to be struggling for original plots, and for something new to say regarding the sordidness of much of high society and the need for drastic reform. But this 17th book starring Superintendent Pitt, a self-made man, and his wife, Charlotte, who “married down,” is one of the best yet. All the previous stories have been set in and around London, but this one is Perry’s take on the “country house mystery.” It’s 1890 and the British government is trying hard to find some solution to the Irish problem, but centuries of mutual hatred between the native Irish Catholics and the Protestants imposed upon Ireland by earlier monarchs have made that nearly impossible. (And still have, for that matter, in the Northern Counties.) Charlotte’s sister, Emily, who married up, to a peer, still manages her late husband’s fortune (in trust for her small son, his heir), including a sizable country estate. Now that her second husband, Jack Radley, is in Parliament, Emily is asked to make her place available for a summit meeting between representatives of both sides in the Irish mess, with a report of recommendations later to be made to Parliament. Pitt is detailed to handle security, though he’s passing himself off at first as merely Emily’s guest. And he takes Sergeant Tellman along, disguised as his valet — which is hilarious, since Tellman loathes the very notion of anyone being a personal servant to anyone else. Hardly has the conference begun when Ainsley Greville, a skilled diplomat and negotiator and moderator for the weekend, is murdered in his bath. A political assassination, obviously, perpetrated by those who despise the idea of compromise over Ireland. Or maybe not. Jack is asked to try to take Greville’s place in continuing the negotiations — until a dynamite bomb destroys his study and one of the Irish attendees is killed in the explosion. Pitt has his hands full, naturally, and so does Charlotte. The cast of characters is better developed than usual, and the background about Ireland is far more skillfully presented than Perry’s previous, rather melodramatic, diatribes on slums and women’s rights. For many reasons, I’m rather an Anglophile, and I have no use whatever for the authoritarianism of the Roman Catholic (or any other) Church — but when it comes to Ireland, I’m on the side of my own ancestors from Kerry, who were thrown off their land in the 1830s and fled the Olde Sod for the American midwest. Yet Perry does an excellent job showing how the Irish have themselves to blame for their troubles, at least as much as the English. The sub-plots, about Charlotte’s maid, Gracie, and her first romantic experience, and the Montague-Capulet affair between a Protestant conference attendee and the wife of a Catholic, are also well done and fit right into the story. (Perry’s parallel plots often stick out like sore-thumb afterthoughts.) My only complaint, in fact, is that we never find out about the true identity of the man with the light-colored eyes. (4/13/08)

Grafton, Sue. T Is for Trespass. NY: Putnam, 2007.

I’m sure Grafton sometimes regrets taking on this series, committing herself to twenty-six novels. After about fifteen installments, they began getting pretty sloppy and perfunctory, but she seems to have partly solved her literary lethargy by breaking out of the mold with the most recent two or three. This one features two narrators — the usual one from California private investigator Kinsey Milhone’s POV, the other (in third person) from the viewpoint of “Solana Rojas,” a larcenous, identity-stealing unlicensed caregiver who slowly strips the elderly of their possessions, bank accounts, and homes, and then arranges their demise when she’s ready to move on. Oddly, the character of Rojas (or whatever her real name is) is much more interesting than that of Kinsey, whom we have perhaps gotten to know too well. She and Henry, her landlord, and her local friends, Rosie and William, haven’t changed noticeably in years. The character of Gus, the elderly victim who lives two doors down, is well developed, anyway. There are a couple of other cases that remain pretty much in the background, one of which (Melvin, the white-haired guy) seems to be there only to fill space and to allow the author to vent about sexual predators. And the ending is entirely too pat and “tidy.” She also continues her recent habit of egregious errors and anachronisms: There were no “taser guns” on the market in 1987; they didn’t become available until the mid-‘90s. All in all, it’s not a bad book — but not up to the standard of the early books in the series, either. What is Grafton going to do when she finally finished “Z”? (4/10/08)

Perry, Anne. Bedford Square. NY: Ballantine, 1999.

The sociomoral theme for today, boys and girls, is reputation: How to build a good public one and how to maintain it in the face of blackmail, given people’s tendency to believe anything bad they read in the newspapers about public figures. It begins with a body being discovered on the doorstep of General Balantyne, whose family figured in two earlier books in the series. Exactly why it’s there is never satisfactorily explained, but Superintendent Pitt gradually uncovers a web of blackmail threats which the victims would find it almost impossible to disprove, set as they are in the professional pasts of a number of gentlemen. It’s never quite clear, either, why the gentlemen in question would reveal these particular incidents to anyone else, and in such detail, in casual conversations at the club. The reader is unlikely to figure out whodunit (or why) until the last chapter, but that’s largely because the author seems to have picked a bad guy more or less at random and then made assertions about how things happened with little regard for plausibility. This is the 19th book in the Victorian London mystery series and Perry has been getting more and more sloppy in making the story believable, seeming more interested in exploring ethical and moral questions than in writing a good murder mystery. (4/07/08)

Perry, Anne. Brunswick Gardens. NY: Ballantine, 1998.

The writers of flap copy obviously don’t read the books they’re trying to promote — otherwise this 18th installment in the Thomas and Charlotte Pitt Victorian mystery series would focus on the controversy over evolution (the original 19th century one, not the present-day religious thuggery), instead of merely mentioning it three or four times in the entire volume. Instead the sociological-philosophical theme (Perry always includes one) is the effect of high-speed scientific and social change on entrenched religion in general and also establishment hypocrisy in protection of the status quo. Unity Bellwood, a brilliant young female linguist who had been assisting an academic Anglican minister with a new book on theology, is found dead at the bottom of the latter’s staircase. Was it an accident or was she pushed? Present are the theologian himself, his wife, a son who has converted to Roman Catholicism (and is a real pain in the neck), two daughters (one conservative and the other a would-be “new woman” who greatly admired the deceased) — and a middle-aged curate who turns out to be Dominic Corde, Charlotte’s brother-in-law and a major character in The Cater Street Hangman, the very first book in the series. The clues are very confusing to both Superintendent Pitt and his wife — the conflicts seem to prove that no one committed the murder — but there’s a reason for that, which most readers will deduce by the time they’re two-thirds of the way through the book. Unity’s character, as revealed in the investigation, is generally admirable and it’s easy to take her side in the struggle to keep women in their place. And Tryphena, the younger (but already widowed) daughter, gets all the good lines in attacking the hypocrisy of organized religion. A pretty good book.

One question though: Back several books ago when Pitt was first promoted to Superintendent of the Bow Street Station, he was being assisted by Inspector Tellman — who in fact was presented as having been Pitt’s competition for the job and who still somewhat resented the fact. But in the later books, Tellman is suddenly back to being a sergeant. Is this a deliberate offense against internal continuity, just so Tellman could court the Pitts’ maid, Gracie? (4/04/08)

Dalmas, John. The Regiment’s War. NY: Baen Books, 1993.

This is the third installment in the five-volume “Regiment” saga, and the direct sequel in action to The White Regiment. The “White T’swa” — Iryalans trained by the real T’swi — have graduated and been sent out on their first contract to a world where an arrogant absolute monarch has invaded a much smaller neighbor. (Smolen, the smaller country, has sympathizers around the world and one of these has taken the contract on their behalf.) The situation is ready-made for the mercenaries’ special skills in small-unit actions and Col. Romlar and his troopers are having an increasingly important impact on events — when the aforesaid monarch hires his own T’swa regiment. Then things begin to get interesting as the two groups of “playmates” join in joyful battle. There are numerous subplots involving individuals, including two in which infiltrators from each side stalk the leaders of the other side. It’s a nice wrap-up, and the last chapter will leave you ready to grab the next volume. Dalmas’s style is straightforward and he’s sufficiently knowledgeable in tactics to completely hold your interest. (4/02/08)

Perry, Anne. Traitors Gate. NY: Ballantine, 1995.

The title refers to the river gate into the Tower of London, the route by which those convicted of treason traditionally were conveyed to execution. This is the 15th title in the Late Victorian mystery series about Inspector (now Superintendent) Thomas Pitt of the Metropolitan Police and his wife, Charlotte, who often takes part in his cases, asking questions in the drawing rooms of Society while her husband more often pursues truth in the streets. The theme this time is betrayal in all its forms, from betraying one’s country to betraying one’s own principles, from the choice between personal honor and family loyalty to the choice between love and practical necessity. As the gamekeeper on the Desmond estate in Hampshire, Pitt is not and never will be a “gentleman.” But Sir Arthur Desmond had him educated beside his own son, as a competitive companion of his own age, and Pitt owes much of his success to the knowledge drummed into him by his tutor and to his educated elocution. Now Sir Arthur has been found dead in his London club, in circumstances suggesting senility or suicide, but Matthew, his son, can’t accept that — nor can Pitt. Sir Arthur had been a low-level member of the Inner Circle (a sinister secret society the author invented a number of books ago and which often takes the place of more believable bad guys), and had begun speaking out regarding the activities of its members in Cecil Rhodes’s economic conquest of southern Africa. (That’s the secondary theme of the book: extractive colonialism, which succeeded the explorers and missionaries.) Then Pitt is summoned to the Foreign Office to investigate suspected treason, specifically the passing of sensitive information on British colonial plans and negotiations to her principal rival, Germany. He’s slowly working his way through the possibilities, being forced to investigate people without actually telling them anything, when the wife of a Very Important Person Indeed is murdered and her body seemingly is washed up at Traitors Gate. Naturally, all three cases tie together eventually and Perry handles the details very skillfully. In fact, in structure and character, this book is one of the best in the series. She also manages to orchestrate three separate climaxes, and even includes a hilarious closing scene in the gentleman’s club involving Charlotte’s sister’s uncle-in-law, Eustace March, whom readers will remember from earlier stories. And Pitt even manages to get in a couple of good licks at the end against the Inner Circle, . . . though one may blink at his methods. (4/01/08)

Published on 20 November 2009 at 2:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

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