(hb; 2002: twenty-second book in the Charlotte & Thomas Pitt series)
From the inside cover:
". . . toward the end of her long reign, Victoria's gold is tarnishing. With a general election fast approaching, a deep rift separates the aristocratic Tories from the Liberal opposition. The powerful Inner Circle -- a secret society of men sworn to support each other above all other loyalties -- is committed to seizing one critical seat in Parliament, a first step towards the achievement of sinister secret ambitions. Passions are so enflamed that Thomas Pitt, shrewd mainstay of the London police, has been ordered to forego his long-awaited vacation, not to solve a crime, but to prevent a national disaster.
"The Tory candidate is Pitt's archenemy, Charles Voisey, a ruthless leader in the Inner Circle. The Liberal candidate is Aubrey Serracold, whose chances may be hurt by his wife's passionate commitment to the Socialist agenda. Equally damaging is her dalliance with spiritualism. Indeed, she is one of the three participants in a late-night séance that becomes the swan song of stylish clairvoyant Maude Laumont. For the next morning, the maid finds Lamont's brutally murdered body in the séance room of the house on Southampton Row.
"To Pitt's heavy burdens is now added the investigation of this most baffling crime. Meanwhile, his wife, Charlotte, and their children are enjoying the country vacation that Pitt has been denied -- unaware that they, too, are deeply endangered by the same fanatical forces hovering over the steadfast Pitt."
Caveat -- (possible) plot spoilers in this review.
Less than a month after the murders and political dirty deals of The Whitechapel Conspiracy, Thomas Pitt -- once again, without warning -- is relieved of his post as Superintendent of the Bow Street police station. And, again, it's likely that Charles Voisey (whose Inner Circle-backed governmental coup was thwarted, at the last minute by others, including Pitt) is behind Pitt's demotion to -- once again -- Special Branch, under the watchful eye of Victor Narraway (head of Special Branch, whose motives and political leanings are unclear).
With Charlotte, their maid Gracie and their kids removed to the country for safe-keeping, Pitt is instructed to watch Charles Voisey, as Voisey campaigns for an important Parliament seat. But Pitt isn't politically-savvy; he's used to investigating murders, not monitoring the dirty dealings of politicians -- least of all, a politician who's the head of the nefarious Inner Circle.
Then a medium (Maude Lamont), who has links to the wife of Voisey's political opponent, is murdered. Pitt (on the quiet) is assigned to investigate that, as well, along with Pitt's sometimes-surly right-hand man (Sergeant Samuel Tellman) and Victor Narraway. Also helping them, indirectly (as usual): Emily Radley (Charlotte's sister and wife of Jack Radley, who's also running for a Parliament seat) and the quietly-influential Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould (Charlotte and Emily's great-aunt by marriage).
Like The Whitechapel Conspiracy, Southampton Row is a turning point in the Charlotte & Thomas Pitt series. The stakes are higher than ever, and Pitt has a specific nemesis (Charles Voisey), who's eyeing the highest leadership position in the British Empire. Also, Pitt's not squeaky clean anymore -- when he hid key evidence to maintain political stability and prevent likely riots in Whitechapel, he joined the dirty-deal game (albeit in a limited manner): in Southampton Row, he's still reeling from that act, and further acts he may have to commit, just to keep him and his friends/family safe.
Excellent, excellent, excellent series! Check these books out!
Followed by Seven Dials.