It’s been a long, long while since I read an Anne Perry, but I’ve always liked the William Monk series best. (amnesia! What’s not to like?) I was tickled to win Corridors of the Night as a LibraryThing Early Reviewer.
First off, this CD edition (CD’s!) has a lovely narrator, David Colacci. He sounded very familiar, but I don’t think I’ve listened to any of his before; for some reason – perhaps his accent? – I developed a desire to hear him read Tolkien. I’ll look for him.
As for Anne Perry and her Hester and William Monk… Again, it’s been a long time, so while they were familiar along with Oliver Rathbone, there were several new characters, and new developments for the familiar ones, which took a little getting used to. It was doable, though; Perry offered enough recaps of what had gone before that I adapted pretty quickly.
Unfortunately, that recapping was not isolated to what went on in past books. There was a certain amount of what I always refer to (and hate that I have to keep referring to it) as reality-show-recapping, the literary equivalent of the nasty tendency to repeat after a commercial break exactly what occurred before the commercial break.
And then there’s the unfortunate fact that the way the story is told – the suspenseful first half, followed by the courtroom drama of the second half – leads to a whole lot of reiteration. The whole thing unfolds, then Oliver’s butler tells him about it, then the prosecution lawyer recaps it again, then Oliver tells this Beata person … and then there’s the courtroom testimony. Yes, thank you, I KNOW the children are too young to testify. Yes, thanks, I get that blood transfusions were first tried 200 years ago – and I might never forget it, since repetition is a great way to learn things.
One more: Oliver goes to his inamorata Beata’s home, and the butler doesn’t ask why he has shown up at that hou – well, no, he wouldn’t, would he? Then a moment later “The butler did not care why he was here, and he certainly did not need an explanation.” Uh, right.
I still like Hester and William Monk. I liked the new additions to their “family”, although the adopted urchin is almost a cliché character in Victorian novels. The writing – except for what I’ve complained about – was professional and well-executed, and my deep frustration with what I complained about alternated with simple enjoyment. Perry’s novels have always struck me as a little chilly, a little emotionally distant, and this one is no different.
There will be some spoilers at the end – but first I’ll make note of two (other) things I learned from the book. You’ll want to stop around here somewhere if you want to go forth unspoiled.
Monk: “Have you ever watched her butter the cut end of a loaf and then slice it afterwards so the butter holds it together and you can do it really thin?” Well, now, that’s just a great idea. Never thought of that.
“Apples grow near the sea.” Really?? Thinking Washington State and here in New England, I suppose they do.
Okay, I’m going spoiler-y.
The book in brief: Hester is helping a friend by taking over her nursing duties in a soldiers’ and sailors’ hospital (know how I know that? I was told. Many times), discovers three children tucked away in a ward, learns that blood is being taken from them – lots of it – and the blood is being used to try and save people with “white blood disease” (leukemia), loss of blood, etc. In short, as a rich man is undergoing this transfusion treatment, she protests – the children are dying – and next thing she knows she is waking up from a drugged sleep to find herself prisoner in the middle of nowhere. She is given to understand by the chemist in charge of the experimentation, Hamilton Rand, that she is there to help the patient’s daughter look after him, to tend to the children, and to be kept from telling anyone. And she realizes that if the patient dies, she probably won’t be far behind.
What utterly baffled me was that both the narrator and, shockingly, Hester, kept coming up with excuses for Hamilton Rand’s physician brother Magnus. He may not have been directly complicit, but he knew damn well what was going on – and did nothing to stop it – and was only non-complicit out of cowardice, allowing his brother to hide it from him.
And then … and then Hester goes back to work at the same hospital, reporting to Magnus Rand. I understand the reasoning: not only are nurses in short supply and desperately needed, but she needs to go back to prove to herself and whoever else that she can. So, fine. I get it. But then she goes back to work for Hamilton Rand. The one who kidnapped her. The one who would have killed her without, apparently, a second thought.
The one who they strongly suspect is responsible for a bunch of skeletons dug up in an orchard on his land (hence the tidbit about the apples). “Well, all doctors lose patients.” YES, BUT THEY DON’T BURY THEM IN THEIR ORCHARD.
“I have no time for emotional games, Mrs. Monk, and I hope we are beyond that now. … This work’s important, as I do not need to explain to you. I think you are almost as well aware of it as I am. I know that you disapprove of my use of the blood of children, even though it works. I, in turn, do not bear you any grudge for testifying so powerfully against me in court.” Well, that’s awfully decent of you, old man. “You acted according to your conscience. It is childish to bear any ill will because of that.” “I wish you to assist me in this continued work from time to time as I need you.” ARE YOU KIDDING? There are bodies in an orchard; three small children terrorized; a woman strangled in a gutter; you’re still having dreams where you smell ether and blood – and you go stand at his desk?! Are you stupid or insane?
To wrap up (and reiterate, in keeping with my complaints about the book), intense frustration mingled with an enjoyment of skillful writing and old familiar characters. I’m not sure why Anne Perry’s novels faded from my reading list… But honestly, I don’t think I’m in any great hurry to play catch up.