Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Hyde Park Headsman, by Anne Perry

(hb; 1994: fourteenth book in the Charlotte & Thomas Pitt series)

Review:

Spring, 1890: eighteen months after the arsons of Highgate Rise, and the unsolved Whitechapel murders, Thomas Pitt is now Superintendent of the Bow Street station. Uncomfortable with his new position -- he's used to working the streets, not politicking or doling out orders to other inspectors from behind a desk -- new pressures are brought to bear on Pitt from all sides, when several unrelated citizens are found beheaded. Threats of demotion from hypocritical -- and more importantly, Inner Circle-associated -- superiors are overshadowed by death threats from pimps who are losing "trade" money because of terrified customers, who won't go near Hyde Park, where all the bodies have been found.

(The Inner Circle, for Pitt-uninitiated readers of this review, is a group of rich, positioned and influential men in government who have formed a society that encourages sometimes-morally dubious favors among its members. Pitt, like anyone who is not a member of the Inner Circle, is viewed as a possible threat to the Circle.)

Once again, Pitt has help: his wife, Charlotte, who's hard-pressed to find ways to aid him; Great-aunt Vespasia Cumming-Gould, Charlotte and Emily's great-aunt by marriage; the Pitts' maid, Gracie, now eighteen years old and headstrong. And, of course, Emily Radley, Charlotte's sister, who now has two children: seven-year old Edward (from Emily's marriage to George Ashworth, which came to a fatal end in Cardington Crescent) and Evangeline, aka "Evie", less than a year old and born after the last Pitt mystery, Farriers' Lane.

Other things are happening, too: Jack Radley, Emily's husband, is making a second, hotly-contested run for a Parliament seat. Caroline Ellison, Charlotte and Emily's once-socially "proper" mother, is having a love affair with a younger -- Jewish -- actor, Joshua Fielding (who first appeared in Farriers' Lane).

If all this sounds soap opera-ish, it's not. Perry's era-consistent, character-based writing keeps things interesting, in a fast-paced way. Fourteen books into the Pitt series, Perry has managed to keep the books fresh and exciting, while building on the characters and themes (murder, social scandal) that were birthed in the first books. Additionally, Perry has kept the later books accessible to new readers who may not have read earlier books, because Perry provides ADD-quick backstories in these mysteries.

The endings to Pitt mysteries usually fall into one of two categories: Shocking and Dramatic, and Effectively Understated and Melancholy. The ending to Hyde manages to be both.

Another excellent entry, well worth your time.

Followed by Traitors Gate.

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