One of my favorite mystery authors is Anne Perry. If you have any interest in Victorian London, you’ve probably read her books, and if you haven’t read her, you have such a treat in store. I personally prefer her William Monk novels to the ones starring Charlotte and Thomas Pitt, but this is only a matter of degree, because she’s a great creator of characters, a clever plotter (one of the things I especially appreciate in mysteries is a solution that I can’t guess beforehand but that, when you look back over the book, is clearly set up and fits with all the facts we have; I don’t know which is worse, guessing the outcome of the mystery before the story’s characters do, or reaching the solution and realizing that it’s a pure deus ex machina, the result of the author’s withholding critical information or panicking and throwing together any solution at the last minute, but I digress), and possessed of a wealth of detailed information about Victorian society, not just the way the upper crust lives but also the lives and circumstances of poor and lower class people as well. Reading Anne Perry’s works is like taking a college level history course, but with a lot more suspense and murder.
All of which is a long way of getting around to her latest book starring William Monk and his wife, Hester, Corridors of the Night, which just came out September 12. This book focuses more on Hester, a wonderful character in her own right, and could be used as an antidote for those people who think they’d like to live in Victorian times (as long as they’d be upper class and healthy).
Hester started out as a nurse in the Crimean War, learning her trade under Florence Nightingale, before the beginning of this series, and she still (21 books on) continues to work as a nurse. While she’s working at the Royal Naval Hospital, Hester discovers, to her horror, that three children have been purchased by a pair of (somewhat demented) scientists to serve as involuntary blood donors for people suffering from “white blood disease” (leukemia), which these two scientists are studying in an (extremely unethical) effort to find a cure. The pair kidnap Hester, partly because she knows too much about what they’re doing, and partly because they need her expertise in caring for patients.
Her husband, William Monk, is the Commander of the River Police, and has years of investigatory experience, private and as a police officer, to help him in his desperate search for his beloved wife. He has connections, not only to top-notch barrister Oliver Rathbone (another long-term character in this series), but to other people with less savory pasts, and he’s willing to use anyone and anything that might lead him to Hester before it’s too late.
One of the attractions of the Monk series is the way Anne Perry uses the mysteries to explore some serious issues in Victorian society (while still delivering suspenseful and exciting mysteries). This book explores medical research, what medical ethics are and should be, and how far a person or a society should go in order to cure a deadly disease.
While William Monk is not at the center of this book, even long time fans of the series will not feel deprived, because Hester, feisty and caring, deeply principled without being moralistic or shrill, is someone you enjoy spending time with, and her fate, and the fate of the children she’s trying to protect, carries readers along on a wild and powerful ride.