April 12, 2013

An ugly truth kept quiet by Victorian women

By Anne Perry
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Anne Perry’s fine new book, Midnight at Marble Arch, features her well-known series duo Charlotte and Thomas Pitt in their familiar setting of Victorian England.

Readers of Perry’s engrossing novels know to expect the highest quality in both story and characterization, plus a continuation of the familiar and finely drawn characters from previous books in the series. But in this story, the unexpected and in-depth treatment of the subject of rape gives the book a timely, almost modern feel. The descriptions and language may be straight out of 1896, but the attitudes and arguments are still relevant today.

The dark debates in Anne Perry's newest Charlotte and Thomas Pitt mystery ring true even today.

Thomas Pitt, now head of Britain’s Special Branch, joins forces with Victor Narraway, his friend and the agency’s former head, to investigate several violent attacks on women. Narraway responds to the scene of a violent rape and the subsequent death of Catherine Quixwood, wife of a successful merchant banker. Likewise, Pitt and his wife are present at a society function when the daughter of the Portuguese ambassador apparently commits suicide, leaping through a window to her death. Charlotte, however, fears she was frightened into an accidental plunge after coming face-to-face with a young man who had previously raped her. Charlotte’s suspicions are strengthened after another woman privately names the same man as her rapist. The suspect is the scion of another prominent banking family of considerable means, to whom many are financially indebted. No one dares point a finger without an airtight case, and the frightened families aren’t talking.

Perry is adept at tempting us with the impossible—and perhaps inevitable—solution, as well as making us watch what we think are surefire clues go up in smoke. A discussion of attitudes toward the crime of rape is woven into the fabric of the plot, and we come to realize we’ve heard many of the same thoughts expressed in our own time. The author seamlessly connects the separate storylines and reveals multiple sides of various suspects, making us wary of convicting the most obvious.

Perry’s fans will also have the pleasure of witnessing a developing relationship between likeable series characters Narraway and Charlotte’s great-aunt Vespasia, as their growing bond, slight at first, becomes a crucial part of the story.

Although the author’s intricate prose gets a little repetitive and overwrought at times, we’re hooked on this provoking and tightly woven book to the very last page.

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Midnight at Marble Arch

Midnight at Marble Arch

By Anne Perry
ISBN 9780345536662

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