Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Highgate Rise, by Anne Perry

(hb; 1991: eleventh book in the Charlotte & Thomas Pitt series)

From the inside flap:

"In a London stunned by the sensational crimes of a madman named Jack the Ripper, a tragic fire in the peaceful suburb of Highgate goes unremarked. But the blaze was set by an arsonist, and an innocent woman has died in it: Clemency Shaw, wife of a prominent doctor. It is unclear whether she or Dr. Shaw were the intended victim -- or whether the doctor himself may have set the blaze in order to inherit his wife's large fortune.

"Baffled by the scarcity of clues in this terrible crime, Inspector [Thomas] Pitt turns to the people who were closest to the couple -- Clemency's stuffy but distinguished relatives; Dr. Shaw's brilliant friends, who share his advanced political views; and neighbors, especially the self-made millionaire who lives next door with his charming daughter.

"Meanwhile, Charlotte [Thomas's wife] gathers the gossip that is being whispered about the Shaws in the city's most proper drawing rooms. Slowly, a tantalizing picture of the dead woman comes into focus. And as she retraces the dangerous path that Clemency walked in the last months of her life, Charlotte finds herself enmeshed in a sinister web that stretches from the lowest slums to the loftiest centers of power."

Review:

Perry adds new elements and semi-twists to the eleventh book in the Pitt series, keeping it intriguing, but not completely forsaking her series-integral theme (murder investigation shakes up the upper class social hierarchy): there's the varying M.O. -- this time, the murderer uses fire to kill. Also, certain longstanding background characters come into the forefront to help Charlotte and Thomas solve the mystery of the fatal blazes -- namely, Gracie, the Pitts' teenage maid, and Grandmama, Charlotte and Emily's snooty great aunt (whose aid is unwittingly rendered). These elements and character differentiate Highgate Rise from earlier Pitt mysteries.

The social and political milieu is different, too: Jack the Ripper is running rampant in Whitechapel, and upper class slum lords, whose identities are kept secret by law, are under siege by reformers who seek to remedy that particular social ill, which may be the motive for the fiery murders.

All the regular supporting characters are involved this time, adding to the fun: Emily and Jack Radley (just returned from their honeymoon), as well as Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould, whose good health seems to have returned (she was sick in the last two books, Silence in Hanover Close and Bethlehem Road).

The killer isn't surprising, but Perry puts enough red herring elements and characters in the story to keep him/her from being too overt. And the Thin Man-like unmasking of the killer is suitably shocking and rude, with a subtle, series-familiar closing-line.

Once again, Perry delivers the excellence. Check it out.

Followed by Belgrave Square.

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