I was going to start this off by saying that either Anne Perry is getting faster or I'm getting slower. I believe this is the third Perry I've reviewed in the past year or so. I can't keep up. Not that I'm complaining -- she's one of my favorite mystery writers. With the emphasis on mystery.
In HALF MOON STREET, Perry proves once again that she's able to bridge past and present in mystery fiction techniques. Set in Victorian England, the story begins with Police Superintendent Thomas Pitt finding a murdered man chained to the side of a boat. There are a number of suspects, and each lends something to the plot as well as to the great air of foggy London menace that Perry's novels thrive on. There are also the usual side trips Perry is famous for. She really does give us wonderful and eccentric looks at life in the Victorian age. This time, she delves more heavily than ever (at least as far as I recall) into the sociology of the time, in particular the society's attitude toward women.
This is the central setup. Superb as it is, however, it is only half of what Perry gives us. The old-fashioned half. Twenty years ago, mystery writers (and readers) would have been happy with just this half of the book, especially given the dazzling and unexpected ending. But today, we demand more depth from our writers, and Perry is eager to supply it.
The dead man is wearing a dress. He is an artistic photographer of great renown. His violent death is rife with sexual implication. These elements allow Perry to look at her story and theme in great depth. She isn't satisfied with surfaces, and neither is the modern reader of serious mysteries. This is the modern half, the penetrating look at then-prevalent social mores.
And so, in addition to the clothes, the architecture, and the politics of the time, she also gives us the street wisdom, too, if you will. How would Victorian London react to such a strange murder? Would the average man be amused or disgusted by a dead man in a tart's dress? The Lord in his castle, what would he have to say? The artiste in a dungeonlike pub? As a couple of recent historical books set out to prove, Victorian England was not as inhibited as popular fiction (i.e, Conan Doyle) first led us to believe. Perry takes this into account, as we see when Pitt begins to move through the various levels of his society. There are several excellent cameos in the book.
Perry is at her best with Half Moon Street, a dark, sleek, and twisty read of sly secrets and deadly scandal.
Barnes & Noble Guide to New Fiction
Perry delivers another Dickensian novel enriched by the color of the matchless Victorian era in magnificent London. "Boy, has London changed!" Complaints about the Britishisms kept this one from a higher score.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Prolific mystery author Perry (Bedford Square) explores the changing mores and social constraints of turn-of-the-century Victorian England in her latest novel featuring London police superintendent Thomas Pitt. Testament to his extensive stage (Amadeus), television and film credits, reader McCallum goes beyond mere narration to bare the depths of emotion represented by each of Perry's well-developed characters. Thus, he brings to life Pitt's diligent investigation into the murder of a young local photographer whose grotesquely posed corpse has been found floating in an abandoned boat on the Thames. With an array of dialects and perfectly timed inflections, McCallum leads the listener into the world of theater, underground pornography and the blossoming struggle for women's rights--all areas with which Pitt comes in contact--and captures the ambience of an emerging bohemian society (represented by the beautiful and thought-provoking stage actress, Cecily Antrim) as well as the staid sensibilities of the older generation. Based on the Ballantine hardcover (Forecasts, Mar. 6). (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
On the morning tide, a flat-bottomed boat drifts to the edge of the Thames. A body wearing a green velvet gown and strewn with artificial flowers rests within, chained in a ghastly parody of Ophelia. When the corpse turns out to be a young man, Superintendent Thomas Pitt of the Bow Street Station has to find out if the body is that of a missing French diplomat. Pitt's investigations take him into the shadowy world of some rather specialized photography. In the course of the search, some truly horrible family secrets are revealed, which in true Perry fashion seem more shocking for being disclosed in the context of the Victorian, mannered society. As in productions of several other Perry novels, accomplished actor David McCallum does a wonderful job with voices; each character is distinct and easily identifiable. For all public library collections.--Barbara Valle, El Paso P.L., TX Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
“Evocative . . . shocking.”—Chicago Tribune
“What a complex and intriguing writer Anne Perry is. . . . Half Moon Street is a beautifully woven mystery. . . . Perry deftly conveys the rich tapestry of Victorian life. . . . She proves, like all the best writers, that outward standards may change, but inner truths remain eternal.”—The Plain Dealer
“Perry has the great gift of making it all seem immediate and very much alive.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Readers get to experience the pace of a changing world through the eyes of intelligent observers . . . all while piecing together clues and moving closer to the author’s famously satisfying denouements.”—BookPage
Read an Excerpt
Pitt turned back to the body and started to look more carefully at the extraordinary clothes the man was wearing. The green dress was torn in several places. It was impossible to tell if it had happened recently or not. The silk velvet of the bodice was ripped across the shoulders and down the seams of the arms. The flimsy skirt was torn up the front.
There were several garlands of artificial flowers strewn around. One of them sat askew across his chest.
Pitt looked at the manacle on the man's right wrist, and moved it slightly. There was no bruising or grazing on the skin. He examined the other wrist, and then both ankles. They also were unmarked.
"Did they kill him first?" he asked.
"Either that, or he put them on willingly," the surgeon replied. "If you want my opinion, I don't know. If a guess will do, I'd say after death."
"And the clothes?"
"No idea. But if he put them on himself, he was pretty rough about it."
"How long do you think he's been dead?" Pitt had little hope of a definite answer. He was not disappointed.
"No idea beyond what you can probably deduce for yourself. Some time last night, from the rigor. Can't have been floating around the river for long like this. Even a bargee would notice this a little odd."
He was right. Pitt had concluded it would have to have been after dark. There had been no mist on the river yesterday evening, and on a fine day, even up to dusk, there would be people out in pleasure boats, or strolling along the embankment.
"Any signs of struggle?" he asked.
"Nothing I can see so far." The surgeon straightened up and made his way back to the steps. Nothing on his hands, but I dare say you saw that. Sorry, Pitt. I'll look at him more closely, of course, but so far you've got an ugly situation which I am only going to make even uglier, I imagine. Good day to you." And without waiting for a reply, he climbed up the steps to the top of the Embankment where already a small crowd had gathered, peering curiously over the edge.
Tellman looked at the punt, his face puckered with incomprehension and contempt. He pulled his jacket a little tighter around himself. "French, is he?" he said darkly, his tone suggesting that that explained everything.
"Possibly, " Pitt answered. "Poor devil. But whoever did this to him could be as English as you are."
Tellman's head came up sharply and he glared at Pitt.
Pitt smiled back at him innocently.
Tellman's mouth tightened and the turned and looked up the river at the light flashing silver on the wide stretches clear of mist and the dark shadows of barges materializing from beyond. It was going to be a beautiful day. "I'd better find the river police, " Tellman said grimly. "See how far he would have drifted since he was put in."
"Don't know when that was," Pitt replied. "There's very little blood here. Wound like that to the head must have bled quite a lot. Unless there was some kind of blanket or sail here which was removed after, or he was killed somewhere else, and then put here."
"Dressed like that?" Tellman said incredulously. "Some kind of a party, Chelsea sort of way? Some--thing--went too far, and they had to get rid of him? Heaven help us, this is going to be ugly!"
"Yes sir, " Tellman said with alacrity. That was something he was willing to do, and a great deal better than waiting around for anyone from the French Embassy. "I'll find out everything I can." And with an air of busyness he set off, taking the steps two at a time, at considerable risk, given the slipperiness of the wet stone.
Pitt returned his attention to the punt and its cargo. He examined the boat itself more closely. It was lying low in the water and he had not until then wondered why. Now he realized on handling and touching the wood that it was old and many of the outer boards were rotted and waterlogged. It had foundered against the stairs rather than simply caught against them. It was obviously not a pleasure boat which anyone currently used on the river. It must have lain idle somewhere for a considerable time.
Pitt looked again at the body with its manacled wrists and chained ankles, its grotesque position. An overriding passion had driven his murderer, a love, or hate, a terror or need, had made this disposition of the corpse as much part of his crime as the killing itself. It must have been a tremendous risk to wait long enough to take off whatever clothes the dead man was wearing, dress him in this torn silk and velvet gown and chain him onto the punt in this obscene position, then set the boat adrift out in the water, getting himself wet in the process. Why had anyone bothered?
The answer to that might be the answer to everything.
From the Hardcover edition.