Monday, May 22, 2006

The Cater Street Hangman, by Anne Perry

(pb; 1979: first book in the Charlotte & Thomas Pitt series)

From the back cover:

“While the Ellison girls were out paying calls and drinking tea like proper Victorian ladies, a maid in their own household was strangled to death. Quiet, young, Inspector Pitt found no one above suspicion – and his investigation at the staid Ellison home caused many a composed facade to crumble into far-from-elegant panic.

“But it was not panic beating in the heart of pretty Charlotte Ellison. And something, more than brutal murder was on Inspector Pitt’s mind. Yet such a romance between a society girl and so unsuitable a suitor was impossible in the midst of a murder...”

Review:

London, 1881. A madman is garrotting young women on Cater Street, and the police don’t have any clues as to who the killer is. And everyone, including the upper class Ellison family, are scared.

Perry charts well the mounting unease and terror within the Ellison family, particularly the sisters – opinionated Charlotte, homemaker Sarah, and clever Emily – as the killer claims more victims, a number of them linked to the Ellison house. Perry also charts well the slow-simmering attraction between Charlotte and Inspector Pitt, and the consternation this causes with her family, even as family secrets are unearthed, adding to the paranoia and terror.

Crisply and efficaciously written, this excellent – I’d venture to say “perfect” – mystery is a sly take on Victorian manners and human nature, and easily one of the best mysteries I’ve read in a long time. I guessed – note that I said “guessed,” not “figured out” – who the killer was, but I was lucky, for it could’ve been any number of characters in this exciting and well-rendered murder mystery.

Followed by Callander Square.

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