Saturday, July 12, 2008

Brunswick Gardens, by Anne Perry

(hb; 1998: eighteenth book in the Charlotte & Thomas Pitt series)

From the inside flap:

"A century ago, Charles Darwin's revolutionary theory of evolution rocked the civilized world, and the outraged Anglican church went on the warpath against it. In a mansion in London's affluent Brunswick Gardens, the battle is intense, as that most respected clergyman, the Reverend Ramsay Parmenter, is boldly challenged by his beautiful new assistant, Unity Bellwood -- a 'new woman' whose feminism and aggressive Darwinism he finds appalling.

"When Unity, three months pregnant, tumbles down the Parmenter's staircase to her death, Thomas Pitt, commander of the Bow Street police station, is virtually certain that one of the three devout men in the house committed the murder. Could it have been the Reverend Parmenter, his handsome curate, or his Roman Catholic son? Powerful forces demand that the scandalous matter be cleared up immediately. But Pitt and his clever wife, Charlotte, refuse to settle for less than the truth... and justice."

Review:

February 1891. Five months after the Ashworth Hall murder, Superintendant Thomas Pitt of Scotland Yard, and his wife, Charlotte -- in an unofficial capacity -- are investigating the death of a progressive, sharp-tongued woman in a house teeming with conflicting religious faiths. Did Reverend Ramsay Parmenter, Anglican clergyman and intellectual who often, loudly quarreled with Unity, push her down the stairs? Or was it Mallory, Ramsay's socially-maladaptive, seething, Catholic-faithed son? Or was it Dominic Corde, priest-in-training (aka, curate), who first appeared in the Pitt series as the badly-behaved widower of Charlotte's sister, Sarah (in The Cater Street Hangman)?

The Pitts, as usual, are resolved to finding the killer, or killers. But this time there's an internal conflict -- Thomas is still distrustful and slightly jealous of Dominic (who once was the object of Charlotte's unrealized adolescent fancies). Charlotte, content and true in her marriage to Thomas, is in turmoil, also, with the unpleasant awareness of past sins -- some of them committed by her, in the semi-crazy blush of youth.

Perry also freshens her effective mystery formula by showing Dominic Corde's third-person perspective. This more or less clears him of being the killer (in his own mind), but it makes the story more interesting to see another character's viewpoint -- author Perry has used third-party perspective before, but rarely are these third-party points of view given so much free rein, word-wise.

I spotted the killer/s almost instantly, but that's partly because I'm cynical, and I read a lot of mystery novels. That didn't spoil the read for me, though, as it's always a delight to spend time with the Pitts and those in their personal circle.

The novel runs a little long about three-quarter of the way in, but the last quarter of Brunswick Gardens -- interesting, and deeply personal -- makes up for that.

Check the series out.

Followed by Bedford Square.

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