(hb; 1997: seventeenth book in the Charlotte & Thomas Pitt series)
From the inside flap:
"The gathering [at Ashworth Hall] has the appearance of a smart autumn house party -- stunning women and powerful men enjoying a few days of leisurely pleasure in a setting of exquisite beauty. In fact, the guests are Irish Protestants and Catholics gathered in reluctant parley over home rule for the Ireland, a problem that has plagued the British Isles since the reign of Elizabeth I. When the meeting's moderator, government bigwig Ainsley Greville, is found murdered in his bath, the negotiations seem doomed.
"Superintendent Thomas Pitt of Scotland Yard almost despairs as divorce preceedings involving the great Irish Nationalist leader Charles Stewart Parnell and his mistress, Kitty O'Shea, become an open scandal. To make matters worse, it seems the late Greville himself may have had a less than savory personal life. The surviving guests -- six men and five women -- unleash their true feelings, or perhaps only pretend to. Their servants follow suit. Unless Pitt and his clever wife, Charlotte, can root out the truth, simmering passions above and below stairs may again explode in murder, the hopeful home rule movement may collapse, and civil war may destroy Ireland.
"Never before has Pitt borne such terrible responsibilities; never before has Charlotte been less able to share them."
Perry's Pitt series gets more exciting with each new book. Part of the reason is that the stakes keep getting raised -- Thomas Pitt is no longer a beat cop with street-level murders and other street crimes to contend with; he is in a position of importance, defusing potentially explosive political situations, which usually begin in murder, and whose resolutions may result in long-term international ramifications (this time for England and Ireland).
Another reason for the increased excitement is that as the series progresses, characters, main and sometimes-peripheral, become like family (for series-familiar readers) -- e.g., Gracie Phipps, the Pitts' fiery-tempered maid of seven years (and now a twenty year-old woman who unofficially aids the Pitts in their murder-solving), and Jack Radley, Emily Ashworth's second husband, an honest, mid-level politician who's steadily becoming more prominent in his chosen profession. These once-peripheral characters, along with mainstays Thomas and Charlotte Pitt, Emily (Charlotte's sister), Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould (Emily and Charlotte's great-aunt by marriage), elicit an emotional reaction in readers like myself, in how they act, and react to the situations and people around them. [This last point about reader-familiarity provoking readers' emotional response(s) can be said about any worthwhile series, or excellent writers, of course, but when reviewing the Pitt series, the point definitely bears reiterating.]
The main reason why the Pitt series keeps getting better lies with Perry herself: she writes with warmth, wit, historically-accurate verve, and a true knowledge of what resides in the human heart, be it dark or light. And often, spotting the murderer (or murderers) isn't a simple thing -- as is the case with this particular novel. (I'd guessed part of it, being a mystery-fiction aficionado, and familiar with Perry's writing style/structure.)
Excellent mystery series, well worth your time.
Followed by Brunswick Gardens.