Friday, December 26, 2008

The Whitechapel Conspiracy, by Anne Perry

(hb; 2001: twenty-first book in the Charlotte & Thomas Pitt series)

From the inside flap:

"It is spring 1892. Queen Victoria persists in her life of self-absorbed seclusion. The Prince of Wales outrages decent people with his mistresses and profligate ways. The grisly killings of Whitechapel prostitutes by a man dubbed Jack the Ripper remain a frightening enigma. And in a packed Old Bailey courtroom, distinguished soldier John Adinett is sentenced to hang for the inexplicable murder of his friend, Martin Fetters.

"Though Thomas Pitt should receive praise for providing key testimony in the Fetters investigation, Adinett's powerful friends of the secretive Inner Circle make sure he is vilified instead. Thus Pitt is relieved of his Bow Street command and reassigned to the clandestine Special Branch in the dangerous East End. There he must investigate alleged anarchist plots, working undercover and living, far from his family, in Whitechapel, one of the area's worst slums. His allies are few -- among them clever Charlotte and intrepid Gracie, the maid who knows the neighborhood and can maneuver it without raising eyebrows. But neither of them anticipates the horrors soon to be revealed."

Review:

The twenty-first novel in the Charlotte & Thomas Pitt series is chockful of Victorian dooziness. The political situation is a powderkeg ready to blow, with the royalists (those who support the royal family) and the republicans (those who'd see the royal family dethroned); Thomas Pitt, and by extension, his wife (Charlotte) and his grand-aunt-by-marriage, Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould, are caught between these two opposing, often-violent political groups. Adding to Vespasia's concerns: the love of Vespasia's life, Mario Corena (a widely-lauded revolutionary hero who romanced her so long ago in Rome, in 1848), has come to England. Why he's done so, she doesn't know, but for discerning readers, there can be little doubt. The question is: whose side is he on?

Meanwhile, Samuel Tellman, Pitt's former right-hand man, is secretly investigating the case that got Pitt unjustly rousted from his position of Superintendent of Bow Street. If Tellman gets caught by the new Superintendent -- who acts like one of the Inner Circle, a political extremist group that favors the Crown -- Tellman will be fired. Gracie Phipps, the Pitts' feisty maid, is helping Tellman; their slow-simmering, lots-o'-argumentative-fireworks romance now coming to a discernible boil, even as the whole of England looks to explode, figuratively and perhaps literally.

Not only that, but a muck-raking journalist, Lyndon Remus (who first appeared in Half Moon Street) is on the prowl, with a story that may just link royalty to one of the most-publicized crimes of the seventeenth century, shortening England's political fuse even more.

Gripping read, this, with a sublime ending that concludes the current story, while providing plenty of possibilities for future Pitt-based books.

Check this series out!

Followed by Southampton Row.

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