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Charlotte Ellison stood in the centre of the withdrawing room, the newspaper in her hand. Her father had been very lax in leaving it on the side table. He disapproved of her reading such things, preferring to tell her such matters of interest as he felt suitable for young ladies to know. And this excluded all scandal, personal or political, all matters of a controversial nature, and naturally all crime of any sort: in fact just about everything that was interesting!
All of which meant that since Charlotte had to obtain her newspapers from the pantry where the butler, Maddock, put them for his own reading before throwing them out, she was always at least a day behind the rest of London.
However, this was today's paper, 20 April 1881, and the most arresting news was the death the day before of Mr. Disraeli. Her first thought was to wonder how Mr. Gladstone felt. Did he feel any sense of loss? Was a great enemy as much a part of a man's life as a great friend? Surely it must be. It must be the cross thread in the fabric of emotions.
There were footsteps in the hall and she put the paper away quickly. She had not forgotten her father's fury when he had found her reading an evening journal three years ago. Of course, then it had been about the libel case between Mr. Whistler and Mr. Ruskin, and that was a little different. But even last year when she had expressed interest in the news of the Zulu War, reported in person by those who had actually been in Africa, he had viewed that with equal disfavour. He had refused even to read them selected pieces such as he considered suitable. In the end it had been Dominic, her sister's husband, who had regaled her with all he could remember—but always at least one day late.
At the thought of Dominic, Mr. Disraeli and the whole matter of newspapers vanished. From the time Dominic had first presented himself six years ago when Sarah had been only twenty, Charlotte herself seventeen, and Emily only thirteen, she had been fascinated by him. Of course, it was Sarah he had called on; Charlotte was only permitted into the drawing room with her mother so that the occasions might be conducted with all the decorum suitable to a courtship. Dominic had barely seen her, his words polite nothings, his eyes somewhere over her left shoulder, seeing Sarah's fair hair, her delicately boned face. Charlotte, with her heavy, mahogany-coloured hair that was so difficult to keep tidy, her stronger face, was only an encumbrance to be endured with good manners.
A year later, of course, they had married, and Dominic no longer held quite the same mystery. He no longer moved in the magical world of someone else's romance. But even with five years of knowledge of each other, of living under the same spacious, well-ordered roof, he still exerted the original charm, the original fascination for her.
That had been his footstep in the hall. She knew it without conscious thought. It was there, part of her life: listening for him, seeing him first in a crowd, knowing where he was in the room, remembering whatever he said, even trivial things.
She had come to terms with it. Dominic had always been out of reach. It was not as if he had ever cared for her, or could have done. She had not expected it. One day perhaps she would meet someone she could like and respect, someone suitable, and Mother would speak with him, see that he was socially and personally acceptable; and of course Father would make the other arrangements, whatever they were, as he had done with Dominic and Sarah, and no doubt would do with Emily and someone, in due course. It was not something she wished to think about, but it remained permanently in the future. The present was Dominic, this house, her parents, Emily and Sarah, and Grandmama; the present was Aunt Susannah coming to tea in two hours' time and the fact that the footsteps in the hall had gone away again, leaving her free to take another quick look at the newspaper.
Her mother came in a few moments later, so quietly Charlotte did not hear her.
It was too late to hide what she was doing. She lowered the paper and looked into her mother's brown eyes.
"Yes, Mama." It was an admission.
"You know how your father feels about your looking at those things." She glanced at the folded paper in Charlotte's hand. "I can't imagine why you want to; there's very little in them that's pleasant, and your father will read those things out to us. But if you must look at it for yourself, at least do it discreetly, in Maddock's pantry, or get Dominic to tell you."
Charlotte felt the colour flood her face. She looked away. She had had no idea her mother knew about Maddock's pantry, even less about Dominic! Had Dominic told her? Why should that thought hurt, like a betrayal? That was ridiculous. She could have no secrets with Dominic. What had she let herself imagine?
"Yes, of course, Mama. I'm sorry." She dropped the paper behind her onto the table. "I shan't let Papa catch me."
"If you want to read, why don't you read books? There's something of Mr. Dickens' in the bookcase over there, and I'm sure you haven't read Mr. Disraeli's Coningsby yet?"
Funny how people always say they are sure when they mean they are not sure.
"Mr. Disraeli died yesterday," Charlotte replied. "I wouldn't enjoy it. Not just at the moment."
"Mr. Disraeli? Oh dear, I am sorry. I never cared for Mr. Gladstone, but don't tell your father. He always reminds me of the vicar."
Charlotte felt disposed to giggle.
"Don't you like the vicar, Mama?"
Her mother composed herself immediately.
"Yes, of course I do. Now please go and prepare yourself for tea. Have you forgotten Aunt Susannah is coming to call on us this afternoon?"
"But not for an hour and a half, at the soonest," Charlotte protested.
"Then do some embroidery, or add some more to that painting you were working on yesterday."
"It didn't go right—"
"Grammar, Charlotte. It didn't go well. I'm sorry. Perhaps you had better finish the comforters so you can take them to the vicar's wife tomorrow. I promised we would deliver them."
"Do you suppose they really comfort the poor?" It was a sincere question.
"I've no idea." Her mother's face relaxed slightly as the thought occurred to her, obviously for the first time. "I don't think I've ever known anyone really poor. But the vicar assures us they do, and we must presume he knows."
"Even if we don't like him very much."
"Charlotte, please don't be impertinent." But there was nothing harsh in her voice. She had been caught in an unintentional truth and she did not resent it. She was annoyed with herself, perhaps, but not with Charlotte.
Obediently, Charlotte left the room to go upstairs. She might as well finish the comforters; it would have to be done sometime.
Tea was served by Dora, the kitchen maid, in the withdrawing room. Tea was the most erratic affair. It was always at four o'clock, and always (when they were home) in this room with its pale green furniture and the big windows onto the lawn, closed now, even though the clear spring sun was slanting onto the grass and the last of the daffodils. It was a small garden, only a few yards of lawn, a patch of flowers, and the single delicate birch tree against the wall. Climbing the old brickwork were the roses Charlotte loved best. The whole summer from June till November was glorious with them, old roses, rambling undisciplined in showers and fronds, shedding carpets of petals.
It was the company that was erratic. Either they called on someone, perching on unfamiliar chairs in some other withdrawing room and making self-conscious conversation, or one of them received callers here. Sarah had young married friends whose conversations were indescribably boring to Charlotte. Emily's friends were little better; all romantic speculation, fashion, who was, or was about to be, courting whom. Most of Mama's friends were stiff, a little too consciously righteous, but there were at least two who were given to reminiscences which Charlotte loved to hear—memories of old admirers, perished long since in the Crimea, Sebastopol, Balaclava, and the Charge of the Light Brigade, and then memories of the few who came back. And there were stories told with mixed admiration and disapproval of Florence Nightingale, "so unfeminine, but you have to admire her courage, my dear! Not a lady, but an Englishwoman one might reasonably be proud of!"
And Grandmama's friends were even more interesting. Not that she liked them, not many of them; they were singularly disagreeable old ladies. But Mrs. Selby was over eighty, and she could remember the news of Trafalgar, and the death of Lord Nelson, black ribbons in the streets, people weeping, black borders on the newspapers; at least she said she could. She spoke frequently of Waterloo, and the Great Duke, the scandals of the Empress Josephine, the return of Napoleon from Elba, and the hundred days. Most of it she herself had overheard in drawing rooms much like this one, perhaps a little more austere, with less furniture, lighter, neoclassic; it was nevertheless fascinating to Charlotte, a reality sharper than this.
But today was 1881, a world away from such things, with Mr. Disraeli dead, gaslights in the streets, women admitted to degrees in London University! The queen was empress of India and the empire itself stretched to every corner of the earth. Wolfe and the Heights of Abraham, Clive and Hastings in India, Livingstone in Africa, and the Zulu War were all history. The prince consort had been dead of typhus twenty years; Gilbert and Sullivan wrote operas like H.M.S. Pinafore. What would the Emperor Napoleon have made of that?
Today Mrs. Winchester was here to see Mama—which was a bore—and Aunt Susannah was here to see them all, which was excellent. She was Papa's younger sister; in fact she was only thirty-six, nineteen years younger than her brother and only ten years older than Sarah; she seemed more like a cousin. It was three months since they had seen her, three months too long. She had been away visiting in Yorkshire.
"You must tell me all about it, my dear." Mrs. Winchester leaned forward fractionally, curiosity burning in her face. "Who exactly are the Willises? I'm sure you must have told me"—sublime assurance that everybody told her everything!—"but I do find these days that my memory is not nearly as good as I should like." She waited expectantly, eyebrows raised. Susannah was a subject of permanent interest to her; her comings and goings, and above all any hint of a romance, or better still, of scandal. She possessed all the elements necessary. She had been married at twenty-one to a gentleman of good family, and the year after, in 1866, he had been killed in the Hyde Park Riots, leaving her comfortably provided for, in a well-run establishment of her own, still very young and enormously handsome. She had never married again, although no doubt there had been numerous offers. Opinion veered between the conclusion that she was still mourning her husband and, like the queen, could never recover from the grief, to the reverse conclusion that her marriage had been so acutely painful to her that she could not entertain the thought of a second such venture.
Charlotte believed that the truth lay between, that having satisfied the requirements of family in particular and society at large by marrying once, she now had no desire to commit herself again unless it were for genuine affection—which apparently had not yet occurred.
"Mrs. Willis is a cousin, on my mother's side," Susannah replied with a slight smile.
"Indeed, of course," Mrs. Winchester leaned back. "And what does Mr. Willis do, pray? I'm sure I should be most interested to know."
"He is a clergyman, in a small village," Susannah answered dutifully, although her eye caught Charlotte's momentarily in unspoken amusement.
"Oh." Mrs. Winchester struggled to hide a certain disappointment. "How very nice. I suppose you were able to be of much assistance in the parish? I expect our own dear vicar would be much encouraged to hear of your activities. And poor Mrs. Abernathy. I'm sure it would take her mind off things, to hear about the country, and the poor."
Charlotte wondered why either the country or the poor should comfort anyone, least of all Mrs. Abernathy.
"Oh, yes," her mother encouraged. "That would be an excellent idea."
"You might take her some preserves," Grandmama added, nodding her head. "Always nice to receive preserves. Shows people care. And people are not as considerate as they used to be, in my young days. Of course, it's all this violence, all this crime. It's bound to change people. And such immodesty: women behaving like men, and wanting all sorts of things that aren't good for them. We'll have hens crowing in the farm yard next!"
"Poor Mrs. Abernathy," Mrs. Winchester agreed, shaking her head.
"Has Mrs. Abernathy been ill?" Susannah enquired.
"Of course!" Grandmama said sharply. "What would you expect, child? That's what I keep saying to Charlotte." She gave Charlotte a piercing glance. "You and Charlotte are alike, you know!" That was an accusation aimed at Susannah. "I used to blame Caroline for Charlotte." She dismissed her daughter-in-law with a wave of her fat little hand. "But I suppose I can hardly blame her for you. You must be the fault of the times. Your father was never strict enough with you, but at least you don't read those dreadful newspapers that come into this house. I had you too late in life. No good comes of it."
"I don't think Charlotte reads the newspapers as much as you fear, Mama," Susannah defended.
"How many times do you require to read a thing before the damage is done?" Grandmama demanded.
"They are all different, Mama."
"How do you know?" Grandmama was as quick as a terrier.
Susannah kept her composure with only the faintest colour coming to her face.
"They print the news, Mama; the news must be different from day to day."
"Nonsense! They print crimes and scandals. Sin has not changed since Our Lord permitted it in the Garden of Eden."
That seemed to close the conversation. There were several minutes' silence.
"Do tell us, Aunt Susannah," Sarah began at last, "is the country in Yorkshire very pretty? I have never been there. Perhaps the Willises would permit Dominic and me ..." she left the suggestion delicately.
Susannah smiled. "I'm sure they would be delighted. But I hardly imagine Dominic enjoying such a very rural life. He always seemed to me a man of more—cultivated tastes than visiting the poor and attending tea parties."
"You make it sound terribly dull," Charlotte said without thinking.
She received a general stare of surprise and disapproval.
"Just the thing poor Mrs. Abernathy needs, I don't doubt," Mrs. Winchester said with a sage nod. "Do her the world of good, poor woman."
"Yorkshire can be uncommonly cold in April," Susannah said quietly, looking from one to the other of them. "If Mrs. Abernathy has been ill, don't you think perhaps June or July would be better?"
"Cold has nothing to do with it!" Grandmama snapped. "Bracing. Very healthy."
"Not if you've been ill—"
"Are you contradicting me, Susannah?"
"I am trying to point out, Mama, that Yorkshire in early spring is not an ideal place for someone in a delicate state of health. Far from bracing her, it might well give her pneumonia!"
"It will at least take her mind off things," Grandmama said firmly.
"Poor dear soul," Mrs. Winchester added. "To leave here, even for Yorkshire, would surely only be an improvement, change her spirits."
"What's wrong with here?" Susannah asked, looking at Mrs. Winchester, then at Charlotte. "I've always thought this an unusually pleasant place. We have all the advantages of the city without the oppression of its more crowded areas, or the expense of the most highly fashionable. Our streets are as clean as any, and we are within carriage distance of most that is of interest or enjoyment to see, not to mention our friends."
Mrs. Winchester swung round to her.
"Of course, you've been away!" she said accusingly.
"Only for two months! It surely cannot have changed so much in that time?" The question was ironic, even a little sarcastic.
"How long does it take?" Mrs. Winchester gave a dramatic shudder and closed her eyes. "Oh! Poor Mrs. Abernathy. How can she bear to think of it? No wonder the poor soul is afraid to go to sleep."
Now Susannah was totally confounded. She looked at Charlotte for help.
Charlotte decided to give it, and bear the consequences.
"Do you remember Mrs. Abernathy's daughter, Chloe?" She did not wait for a reply. "She was murdered about six weeks ago, garotted, and her clothes ripped from her, her bosom wounded."
"Charlotte!" Caroline glared at her daughter. "We will not discuss it!"
Excerpted from The Cater Street Hangman by Anne Perry. Copyright © 1979 Anne Perry. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted September 9, 2012
Anne Perry is good at working her characters, and casting a shadow on everyone eventually. The ending is satisfying, but the book is a little slow. My only complaint is that much like some of Agatha Christie's books, Ms Perry drags on a little too long in the emotional dregs of her main protagonist causing the reader to skim and skip at times starting about three quarters of the way through the book. Being the first of a series, I am sure she was trying to give us all a good look into her main characters.
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Posted August 29, 2011
I read the 2011 Open Road ebook edition of this book. This is the first book I have read of hers but won't be the last. I was into the characters I really like charlotte and her sisters.
Charlotte is reading the paper in secret because her father thinks that their is only a little on the news fit for women and he will read it to them. So she reads them when the servants put it away for them to read so at least its a day old by the time she can read it.
Charlotte has a crush on her sister Sarah's husband. She is very out spoken and not afraid to say things to others. She is also caring about others and trys to help when she can.
Sarah is married and she lives with her husband and her mother & Father, two sisters and grandmother in the same house.
Emily is the youngest of the three sisters and romance is very important to her. She can manuver with the best of them.
Someone is killing women on their street with a wire around their necks. Soon everyone is questioning everyone else. Pitt is the policeman that is in charge asking all the questions.
I did not guess the real murder till the end of the book I suspected a few but was wrong. I recieved this ebook from netgalley in exchange for honest review.
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Posted September 10, 2009
I bought this book years ago and recomend it to anyone. I have lost track of how many times I have reread it, but it has been at least 20 times. I may have to buy a second copy of it soon because it is almost worn out. Any of the Tomas and Charlottt Pitt novels is worth buying and I have most of them. If you like a good mystery and historical fiction this book is for you. In fact any of the Pitt novels is worth buying.
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Posted December 26, 2014
I love her both of her book series. This is the first one in thiscseries. I have read each one as they were published since I first read this one.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 15, 2014
I have greatly enjoyed the William Monk series and felt I needed to delve into the Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series. Perry shows that the police department in England did not evoke respect in the 1880's. No privileged family would welcome a policeman into their family. Policemen are barely above the riffraff that they must arrest. Perry spends much time in describing the everyday life of the English, and the role of a lady in this society. That life stands as a boring march to the grave. Women have no life and have been held to strict principles. Men, in contrast, lead a different life with different principles. The killer/hangman comes as a surprise, but the story abruptly stops with the discovery of the hangman.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 5, 2014
Posted January 24, 2014
Posted October 31, 2013
Anne Perry's first book in this wonderful series, had me staying up all night till 3am to finish reading- Loved how the book made you keep turning the page. I totally thought I knew who dun it. Boy, was I wrong.. What a great author and story teller. Bring on the rest of the series..Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 12, 2013
This was my first mystery, and i loved it. I couldn't put it down. The characters were intriguing, the plot was perfectly paced, and i can't wait to read the next book.
I hope the rest of the series is as engaging.
Posted August 31, 2013
I love Charlotte & Thomas and while the story is tragic, it captures the superficial prissiness of Victorian culture that overlies the often gritty and sordid realities and inequalities, as well as the ingrained classism of England. I look forward to more investigations in the pursuit of justice in 19 th century London.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 19, 2013
Posted February 8, 2013
Posted August 30, 2012
This was a wonderful historical mystery, it is the beginning of Charlotte Ellison and Inspector Thomas Pitt's romance. A madman is garroting women at night on Cater Street. These women are a mixture of classes, both maids and young ladies of the family. When the Ellison's maid is murdered Inspector Pitt goes to their home to question the family and that is where he meets Charlotte. Things progress and each develops feelings that neither will admit until the final murder occurs. A well written storyline and great characters make this a great book.
Thank Net Galley and Random House Publishing Group
Posted August 4, 2012
I first started reading Anne Perry with "Death in Devil's Acre" and while I thoroughly enjoyed the book, it made reference to characters I did not know or understand why they were mentioned. Having read "Cater Street Hangman" it all makes sense. To know really understand Charlotte and Thomas Pitt, one needs to begin with the first book. If you want to start a collection of Victorian murder mysteries, this is a great place to start.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 3, 2011
This is the first of the Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series. It was great to find this one as it gives background on the characters. I have enjoyed everyone of the series.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 28, 2011
I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the time period it was set in. I was not surprised by the end, I had the killer figured out way ahead of time, but I was surprised by the motive until the last chapter when I thought it was pretty evident.
The book is about a family that is of high social order. Though rich and entitled, the women in the family do their best to attend to the ill and poor, perhaps on a superficial level but still, they try according to their upbringing. As the story goes, several women are found murdered on Cater Street somewhat reminiscent of the Boston Strangler. It is the mention, several times, that the women were not molested that made the killer evident to me but I read enough of this type of book to find the clues.
The good - the book is wonderful with its characters, its attention to even the smallest details and made me care about the family. The women are Caroline (mom), her eldest Sarah who is married to Dominic, her second eldest Charlotte who is the main character pretty much and the one who defies the societal norms the most, then the youngest Emily who only wishes to marry well. As the story goes and the murders hit closer to home (they live near Cater Street), secrets they wished to keep hidden begin to be exposed as everyone is suspect.
The bad - I couldn't really come up with anything bad to say about the book. The sample was done in extremely small print - smaller than any book I have ever read in my life - but to make it larger was to distort the sentences.
I have to say, I really enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to anyone who likes historical romance/murder mysteries. I give this book an A!
**I received this book from Netgalley which required me to read and write a review. The review is not required to be favorable though, in this case, it certainly is. :-)
Posted July 23, 2011
In this first of the series, Anne Perry captures the atmosphere and essence of Victorian society. This is an entertaining read that will keep you guessing till the end.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 26, 2009
When I learned that there was a series of Victorian era murder/mysteries I became excited since I was bored with the usual historical romances. Ah, thought I, now for some excitement. In the Cater Street Hangman, the first of this series, the plot is good as mysteries go with any number of red herrings thrown in. The final denouement is a surprise (at least it was to me). However, the characters all seem a bit shallow and story movement is slow. At the outset I thought this would be one of those books where I read the first couple of chapters and set it aside. Not so. After a slow start, the story does indeed pick up with bits and pieces of the puzzle being revealed slowly.
For this reader, however, there are many unanswered questions about dangling story lines. Hopefully, they will be answered in the next book in the series. I've given this book 3 stars based on the originality of the plot
Posted August 11, 2008
This is an excellent beginning to the Pitt series by Anne Perry. I have read every one so far and have not been disappointed in any of them. If you like mysteries, you will love this book, and the Victorian England history is excellent.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 17, 2006
With a Victorian England setting, intriging characters, and a few maids and high class young women being garrotted on Cater street, I was absolutley hooked. Perry does a great job of describing women's roles, class society, and of course a wonderful mystery that will keep you guessing until the end. I recommend this to anyone who loves a page-turning mystery.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.