I want to say that I’ve been a fan of Anne Perry’s books for decades … but I think it’s more that I’ve been a reader of her books for that long. I’ve always liked reading them – but I don’t think I’ve ever loved them, except for maybe one. The characters have never become important enough to me that I’ll cry if they’re killed off. And actually, the first one I read after a hiatus of several years was very disappointing.
This one … I wouldn’t say that about it, but … I just don’t have any strong feelings about it. Didn’t hate it, didn’t love it.
It all begins when good old Monk is called in to a murder scene which is built up as absolutely horrific. The reactions of everyone he meets on the way in indicate that it’s ghastly, without anyone ever giving him (or the reader) a detail. Which was clever … until we walk into the room with Monk and get the first description of the scene and the victim, and it’s an anticlimax. “It’s a bad one, sir”, someone says, and then left me wondering what was so bad about it for a few more pages. I mean, once the full scope of what happened to the victim became clear, my response was “oh” – yes, it was indeed plenty awful – but might it not have been more effective to whack the reader with that all at once? Anne Perry’s been writing for … forever (oh, only since 1990; not quite thirty years (as of now). For some reason I thought it was longer), so she obviously knows what she’s doing; it just seemed an odd choice. Or maybe it’s just me.
And maybe it was just me being put off by the fact that despite a quite detailed description of the murder scene(s), I had to go back over and over to see if the many many candles placed around the room(s) were lit or not. I don’t think I ever did find out. Those candles also had me yelling at the book for them to go check out chandlers in the area, which didn’t seem to be something that occurred to anyone for ages.
I don’t really recommend reading this series the way I have. It looks like I missed about ten years’ worth of books in this series (which I always liked more than the Charlotte & Thomas Pitt books), and obviously a lot happened in those five books, leaving me saying things like “Wait, who, now?” and “Oliver did what?” and “They were in America for the Civil War?” and so forth. Perry provided a decent amount of backstory, but I wouldn’t say this worked well as a stand-alone (or stand-apart).
Obviously the exploration of intolerance against immigrants is extremely topical today. Which is incredibly sad. The discussion of what we now call PTSD is quite timely as well. Both of these threads lead to possible answers to the mystery…
What annoyed me a little was – well: “Monk was a brilliant detective; he could acknowledge that without immodesty.” Okay. The story doesn’t really bear that out, but … okay. (And no, you can’t say that about yourself without being immodest. You really can’t.)
It was an interesting mystery, this; lots of red herrings that led to interesting passages, but with a final solution I just didn’t find as interesting. Like that first murder scene description, it was somewhat anti-climactic.
The main reason I never loved Anne Perry’s books as much as others is simply the writing. It’s perfectly serviceable, although sometimes awkward; it’s workmanlike. See Spot run. I never feel the connection, not only to the characters but to the author, that I do when reading – say, Robin McKinley, or Barbara Hambly. It makes for – what was that word again? interesting reads – but not really fun.
The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.