Tag Archives: Anne Perry

Treason at Lisson Grove – Anne Perry

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Really, I was so glad to find an Anne Perry crime story on the library shelves I could have wept.  No experimental literary fails. No mind-numbing clog of words to cut through. No plot that assumes I have the intelligence of a dung beetle and not one iota more than its sophistication. (Sincere apologies to dung beetles.) Just a well-made Victorian thriller with Charlotte and Thomas Pitt sharing the honors and the remarkable Vespasia in a brilliant and essential cameo role. Treason at Lisson Grove was a delight.

I read it until I couldn’t make out the words anymore just before turning out the light. I read it in line waiting for free tickets to the Shakespeare Festival in the park–didn’t score any but the weather was perfect. I read it after the daily agony of coaxing my wheezing laptop through the tedious research needed to write web content that syphons off all the time I should be writing a book. It was excellent Anne Perry, which is to say that the story and the characters and the dilemma hold up splendidly and spending time in that book was pure pleasure.

Treachery is everywhere in the Special Branch and the very future of England is at stake as Thomas Pitt chases a spooked informant down alleys and through traffic with the help of a junior colleague. He is too late. The informant is stabbed–throat slit–moments before Pitt reaches him and the two detectives set off in pursuit of a murderer. So it begins. Pitt has no idea what he is pursuing. He and the colleague end up in France just as his mentor, the head of Special Branch, is ignominiously removed from office under the cloud of an embezzlement that cost an Irish collaborator who trusted him his life. Tip of the iceberg. Victor Narraway has painful ghosts in Ireland, and plenty of the living with long memories who hate him enough to nurture revenge plots for decades. So he plans to leave at once for Dublin.

Charlotte Pitt doesn’t hesitate to inform Narraway she is going along to help discover the truth. If his career is ruined, so is her husband’s–and her family homeless, no hope of work or an income to raise their children, everyone out to menial jobs, even the kids. Besides, she believes Narraway has been framed and she sees how completely wrecked his life is without the job that defines it. Her dour new housekeeper chooses that moment to walk out. Pitt is incommunicado in France on a stakeout. Things couldn’t be worse. And then Pitt realizes he has been set up to remove him from London just as some dark political plot is about to unfold.

Complete craziness in Dublin, Dover, London and the Isle of Wight follows. Treason at Lisson Grove is very good. Anne Perry is so reliable.  More than fifty books in four separate series. I wish I could write that fast and that well.

Treason at Lisson Grove: A Charlotte and Thomas Pitt Novel  Anne Perry | Ballantine Books   2011

Dorchester Terrace – Anne Perry

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Thomas Pitt has been promoted to head of the Special Branch and there are some questions—a few in his own mind—about whether he is up to the task. Pitt is a brilliant detective but his new role as Commander requires diplomacy, tact, social graces and an instinct for intrigue. In addition, he will hold the fate of many people in his hands—his decisions will be life and death in circumstances that are often ambiguous.

When he learns of suspicious questions about train crossings from Dover to London and then discovers that a Habsburg is scheduled to take that route on a visit to Kensington Palace, he may or may not be onto the early stages of a disastrous political plot. The Foreign Secretary is contemptuous and other complications create awkward situations that frustrate Pitt and may endanger scores of innocent civilians.

Add to this stew a once fabulous elderly revolutionary, a woman whose valiant and colorful exploits were matched only by the roster of her illustrious lovers during a time of unrest and rebellion in the Austrian Empire. Serafina Montserrat was legendary but now she is frail and forgetful, terrified that her ramblings may reveal secrets that can still incite murder and international mayhem. Serafina lives on Dorchester Terrace, confined to bed and the ministrations of a resentful niece, a faithful servant and visits from old friends and acquaintances—until she dies of a massive overdose of laudanum.

Anne Perry’s Dorchester Terrace reignited my interest in Thomas and Charlotte Pitt. The elevated venue in which the Pitts now solve mysteries is more interesting than the former more mundane puzzles I’ve read with the two sleuths. So I suppose I will once again pull this Anne Perry series off the shelf when I come across a few—Perry is a convincing writer with an obsessive tendency to weave detailed history in and out of her stories. The history in this book, a fictional foreshadowing of the events that triggered World War I, is fascinating and at least as interesting as the plot.    

Dorchester Terrace: A Charlotte and Thomas Pitt Novel   Anne Perry | Ballantine  2012

Cain His Brother – Anne Perry

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William Monk has been busted out of the police force in Victorian London and, with no other skills but detective work, set himself up as a private eye. When Genevieve Stonefield comes to him with a desperate tale of a missing husband, he suspects a fiscal or romantic entanglement. But Angus, the missing man, seems to have been a model of rectitude and there is no mistaking his wife’s distress. She believes he went to the Limehouse section of town where his wastrel twin brother Caleb haunts the docks and alleys, a fearsome murderous criminal.

As Monk sets off to find Caleb and determine if and how Angus has met with foul play, typhoid fever sweeps through the slums and Hester Latterly and several wealthy patrons convert an old warehouse into a makeshift hospital. Hester and Monk have some history but it is as much antagonism as attraction and they spend this book sparring relentlessly. Monk has reasons to visit the typhoid shelter and Heather has emergency nursing duties for one of her helpers who succumbs to the fever. The woman is the wife of Lord Rathbone, Angus and Caleb Stonefield’s childhood guardian—the plot thickens.

So, we have Cain and Abel—er, Caleb and Angus—plenty of excuses for Monk’s and Hester’s paths to cross on a regular basis, a seedy waterfront setting and a hunt for a missing identical twin. Alas, I figured out a major, major plot point before the fever had even taken hold in the filthy back alleys of London. But Anne Perry pulls out her usual bag of tricks and surprises in Cain His Brother and suspecting what really happens does not dim the pleasure in tracking what is happening. Monk is framed by a beautiful woman who accuses him publicly of attacking her, a charge that will ruin him and make it impossible for him to work. Certain society matrons have rather colorful and extremely veiled pedigrees. Perry throws in her version of the movie car chase—a wild hunt for a vicious perp on and along the Thames, on foot and on barges.

The William Monk mysteries are reliably satisfying. The sights and sounds of Victorian London, especially its seedier environs, are vivid and convincing. Hester and Monk’s wary circling is acerbic and fun to watch. I ran out of hours trying to keep up with overscheduled life and a seriously long YA book that is also a very good read, so I jumped into the polluted Thames with Monk, who can always be counted on for a thrill ride and a complex, twisted plot. Even knowing the key to the riddle of the disappearance didn’t help me to unravel all of it. I did, however, slide into the last chapter well before midnight. Murder mysteries will probably get me through the year.

Cain His Brother: A William Monk Novel (Mortalis)   Anne Perry | Ballantine Books  2010

Acceptable Loss – Anne Perry

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I’ve been reading a lot of Anne Perry novels and come to some conclusions about this best-selling author of historical crime fiction. She writes several series with dedicated characters situated in specific venues for their exploits. By far I prefer her William and Hester Monk books. Acceptable Loss is the latest of these and they are so good I will reserve as many as the New York Public Library has so I can read all of them.

Monk shares top billing with Hester who is a strong heroine, smart sleuth, fearless investigator and highly principled woman essential to the solving of morally repugnant crimes along the Thames in Victorian London. Acceptable Loss picks up where Execution Dock left off—the pornography ring and floating salons of sexual abuse that serve as prisons for young boys is still very much alive. Even the murder-suicide of the owner of one of the boats and the prominent judge who was his customer hasn’t slowed the traffic. Monk and Hester have taken in a mudlark, Scuff, a kid who lived by his wits on the lawless banks of the Thames and was nearly destroyed by the horrible business. As Acceptable Loss opens, they know that Scuff still doesn’t feel safe and won’t until they do something to uncover the money and power behind the sex salons and the extortion ring they fuel.

When the body of a boat owner farther upriver washes ashore, Monk and his deputy find another slave ship crammed with five- and six-year-old boys. The hunt is on for the real puppet-masters, complicated by the charge that the upper-class father-in-law of London’s most prominent barrister, a close friend of both Hester and Monk, has something to do with the revolting trade in children’s flesh. Monk’s investigation threatens a major patron of Hester’s clinic for prostitutes and poor women, and makes an enemy of the barrister’s wife, a clinic volunteer and friend of Hester’s who is also the daughter of the chief suspect.

The forensics are terrific; the suspects are plentiful; the stakes couldn’t be higher; the moral questions are fierce; the courage required to pursue faint and dangerous leads to the truth is exceptional. So is the novel. I think the Monk books are by far Perry’s best and my guess is that the characters and the issues are richer and more compelling than those in her other mysteries. London’s seedy waterfront spawns an inexhaustible number of colorful individuals. The crime is cinematic; the narrow alleyways are stifling; the poverty is grinding and grimy; the gap between rich and poor is stark; the self-doubt that plagues the protagonists at key points in the crime-solving isn’t based on poor self-image but on a refusal to settle for anything less than absolute integrity.

I wonder if Monk and his cohorts are Anne Perry’s favorite creations? In my estimation, they benefit from the lion’s share of her talent. I have yet to read any of her WWI books, although I am told those are among her best. So I’ll reserve final judgment until I’ve had the chance to sample all the dishes in this literary banquet. But Monk and Hester are the go-to team for times when I want a reliable, satisfying read—one that could compel you to stay up way too late so you can finish it. Which I did.

Acceptable Loss: A William Monk Novel   Anne Perry | Ballantine Books  2011

Buckingham Palace Gardens – Anne Perry

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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

A Christmas Homecoming – Anne Perry

Well, it was a rough week. The brain did not engage this morning so I defaulted to the last of the Anne Perry mysteries I collected at the library—a slender episode in her holiday series. It seemed like a more practical choice than finishing Luminarium, a good book but much more work. A Christmas Homecoming is a classic cozy—an acting troupe snowed-in at a country estate, a storm-stranded stranger who is given shelter until the blizzard abates, loads of personality clashes, shifting relationships and a horrible murder that had to be committed by someone in the snowbound house.

A light read. Caroline Fielding has married a much younger actor, the head of the repertory company who travels to Yorkshire to put on a performance of an adaptation of Dracula written by a patron’s daughter. It is a house at war with itself—the décor and shadow of a domineering mother-in-law still inhabits the rooms. It is magnificent but dark and somber despite the efforts of Eliza Netheridge, its current mistress. Charles Netheridge, the self-made millionaire who owns the estate, is humoring his daughter Alice who wants to be a playwright. He has scheduled a performance of her play for Boxing Day in the house’s theatre.

Jealousies, flirtations, poisonous repartee, a truly awful script and the dire necessity to fix it while not alienating the wealthy host, the surprisingly astute observations of the stranded guest and Caroline’s attempts to smooth things to protect her husband Joshua build to a gruesome discovery at midnight—and then an even more gruesome discovery as Caroline sets out to solve the crime. Suspicion is bound to fall on the members of the traveling theater troupe, who are the unknowns in the fishing village of Whitby.Whitby happens to be where Dracula first set foot on English soil and some of the housebound believe that vampires might be real and that one may be among them.

There are some interesting discussions of the nature of evil to enjoy but A Christmas Homecoming is not a hold-your-breath novel. It has its grim moments and ugly surprises and it is convincing and solidly crafted. Just what a brain-dead writer and daily book devourer needed to refocus on how, some days, even the simple stories can save us.

A Christmas Homecoming: A Novel   Anne Perry | Ballantine Books   2011

Execution Dock – Anne Perry

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A discriminating reader I know advised me not to miss Anne Perry’s William Monk Victorian murder mysteries. Good advice. Execution Dock was intricate, wildly descriptive and is set in a world it’s easy to get lost in. Monk has been appointed Commander of the River Police and he is up against old ghosts and present evil that reaches far beyond the dodgy and treacherous waterfront.

The River Police close in on a pornographer and flesh peddler of young boys who operates a brothel of degradation and torture on a pleasure boat on the Thames. One of the boys held captive on the boat has been found badly burned by cigars with his throat cut. Monk snags the killer, Jericho Phillips, but Monk’s testimony and his wife’s about the horrors of Phillips’ trade are picked apart in court and a vicious murderer goes free. As stunning and terrible to the Monks is the tactic of the defense attorney who gets the killer off by attacking the credibility of two of his closest friends—William and Hester Monk.

The sights and smells and dangers of the waterfront are vivid and evocative and the characters in this story are all colorful. There is some very clever work in the first part of the book to throw the reader off the trail and it is well done enough to be really effective. Monk is torn between loyalty to his former commander, who died saving Monk’s life and whom he admired unreservedly, and the urgent necessity to disprove ugly allegations about the man that might be true.

Hester struggles with the day-to-day management of her clinic and the tragic lives of the prostitutes and impoverished Londoners who show up for medical care. She burns at her treatment on the witness stand by a man who once wanted to marry her. She determines to shield Monk from the pain of the revelations his sleuthing threatens to uncover by finding out who is linked to the sex slave business first. And she is meticulously protective of the ‘mudlark’, the young boy who survived by his wits gathering and selling flotsam from the mudflats of the river and who now lives with Hester and William.

Perry takes a fine scalpel to the motives and emotions of the main characters and the glimpse inside their heads is as fascinating as the efforts to catch the killer. Socially prominent people do completely out-of-character things—some admirable, some despicable, some irrationally risky. Wary denizens of the darkest alleys know more than they are willing to tell. Scuff, the Monks’ young charge, becomes a pawn in the deadly game played out on the river. Scurrilous charges begin to make the rounds, attacking William’s and Hester’s reputations and endangering the existence of the rough and tumble River Police unit.

There’s plenty of violence, plenty of fine writing and plenty of juicy plot. I’m adding Monk to my great all-time gumshoe list—but he makes it on there as much for the pleasure of reading about the indomitable Hester.

Execution Dock: A William Monk Novel (William Monk Novels)   Anne Perry | Ballantine Books     2009

A Christmas Grace – Anne Perry

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The library had none of the books I ordered and there was a half-shelf of Anne Perry mysteries just sitting there like an open box of chocolates so I grabbed a few. Terrific escape-from-too-much-taxing-reality reading. A Christmas Grace was a lovely afternoon’s respite from several busy days. Nothing like a little murder and killer storms along the Irish coast to provide entertainment.

Emily Radley travels, against her will but guiltily, to a Connemara village on Ireland’s West coast to spend Christmas with her dying aunt. She hasn’t seen Susannah in a lifetime and she hates to leave her children and holiday celebrations in London but her husband persuades her it is the right thing to do. Susannah, who married for love against her family’s wishes and is now widowed, is very frail and troubled by some secret that seems to have the whole town in its grip. As a terrible storm bears down on the coast, the fear rises palpably and the weather explodes in a maelstrom of wind, rain, lightning and ferocious tides. Through a flash of lightning, Emily sees a ship foundering offshore and, as it sinks, the sea casts a lone survivor into the shallows.

The rescue of the shipwrecked sailor awakens old memories that plunge the village into terrified and suspicious behavior. Daniel, the sailor, can’t remember much more than his first name but has an uncanny way of asking the questions that uncover each person’s most closely held dreams, failings and fears. Emily determines that Susannah wanted her there to uncover the clandestine knowledge that is poisoning the people and emptying the village. Daniel’s questions stir up doubts and uncertainties Emily hadn’t realized she harbored about her own happy marriage. And then she discovers that seven years ago a similar fierce storm cast another young sailor ashore—and that someone in the village murdered him.

A Christmas Grace is a search for motive rather than means. It holds a sense of darkness and menace but no urgent tension or frightening threats to the sleuth or her failing aunt. Emily does come perilously close to dying at an auspicious moment in the plot and she stirs up a hornet’s nest of her own when her questions hit too close for comfort. This is a murder mystery more in the vein of Agatha Christie than Carol O’Connell or even Kate Atkinson. But it is an enjoyable read and I’m happy to have a couple more Perry mysteries to wile away blustery spring evenings in the company of good stories.   

A Christmas Grace: A Novel   Anne Perry | Ballantine Books   2008

A Christmas Odyssey – Anne Perry

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Just when you think you’ve bottomed out on genre books, Anne Perry’s A Christmas Odyssey comes along and stuns you. There is a raft of these bestselling Christmas books and the world Perry has created in this one is dark, depraved and devoid of anything remotely like tinsel. But it was fascinating, with clever clue-dropping, an insider’s knowledge of crime in Victorian London, and characters as grime-besmirched and morally contentious as adversaries in a court of law or rival theologians.

James Wentworth has everything in the world but his son Lucien as Christmas approaches. The young man has been lured by drugs and vice into a tunnel of sewers and corruption that runs beneath polite society and feeds on its weaknesses. Lucien would seem to be lost for good but Wentworth prevails on a friend, Henry Rathbone, to search for him. Henry collects a former pimp and brothel owner who has turned respectable and a “doctor” without a medical degree who runs a clinic for the down-and-out and enters the underworld.

The journey is lurid, overripe with sickening sensations, fraught with inescapable peril and peppered with colorful denizens of opium dens and whorehouses. Pubs are filthy, blood slicks stone steps in a dark alley, the mere mention of a vile crime boss inspires terrified silence, a legendary beauty haunts the scraps of information about Lucien and his descent into hell. Eventually, the unlikely trio takes on a gutsy teenage barmaid who knows something, and encounters a wraithlike old man in a lavender frock coat who is the key to the tragic story behind the story.

The streets, alleys and sewers are sinister and the festive holiday season begins to seem like the unreal realm. The interior struggles of the seekers are as interesting as their pursuit of Lucien and the truth. A Christmas Odyssey is a richly-detailed, intense journey with high stakes and wonderful characters. Evil and honor are at war in this book but there is never a simplistic attempt to paint the morbid and complex canvas in anything as obvious as black and white.

A Christmas Odyssey: A Novel   Anne Perry | Ballantine Books   2010