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From Barnes & NobleI 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.