I’m still not sure why this Victorian murder mystery is named Buckingham Palace Gardens—it takes place mostly inside Buckingham Palace and there doesn’t seem to be much to do with the gardens. But Anne Perry weaves a suitably wicked plot inside the palace walls and her sleuths, Thomas Pitt and his household servant Gracie, do range from the wine cellar to the kitchens to the guest wing and the Queen’s bedchamber in search of a vicious killer.
At a house party to hammer out details of a grand venture to build a railroad the length of Africa and expand the Empire, a collection of diplomats, bankers, visionaries, Africa hands and desperately unhappy upper class people are wined and dined by the Prince of Wales. But festivities come to an abrupt end when the horribly mutilated nude body of a prostitute is found stuffed in the royal linen closet. Pitt and his superior in Special Services are called in to solve the crime. Gracie is added, posing undercover as a new palace maid, to pick up whatever intelligence she can from the servants.
The crime is a tough puzzle. There are inexplicable details, no apparent motive, missing clues that will prove vital and no witnesses. Everyone but the houseguests has a solid alibi and palace security means the culprit must be one of them. Anne Perry uses the claustrophobic setting to explore the connections, frustrations and secret longings of several of the guests. No one seems to be in love with the one they’re with—in fact, most of them are covertly or openly lusting after someone else’s partner. That goes on a bit and gets revisited more than I thought was good for the pace of the story. I got really tired of the interior monologue of one character who was miserable but couldn’t be sure the son-in-law she always meant to marry herself was a worthy object of her affection.
Random clues stay random; Gracie discovers more than the cops; the nobility and the elite are less than admirable. The dead woman isn’t placed and her clothes are never found. Odd comings and goings, blood traces, broken pottery and other seemingly haphazard bits of information don’t add up to a motive or a suspect. And then another corpse is discovered and chunks of the puzzle start to snap into place.
Reasonably good book, hard to guess, although a reader is led astray pretty often with clues that dead end after a while. I’ve liked other Anne Perry books better than this one but it was cleverly done, even if the emo content verged on the obsessive or maudlin from time to time. Buckingham Palace Gardens is one of Perry’s Charlotte and Thomas Pitt mysteries but Charlotte doesn’t make an appearance. Gracie is good though. I wouldn’t mind another mystery with Gracie reprising her role as sleuth—she’s a great character.
Buckingham Palace Gardens: A Charlotte and Thomas Pitt Novel (Charlotte & Thomas Pitt Novels) Anne Perry | Ballantine Books 2008