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By Anne Perry

Ballantine, Hardcover (346 pp.) October, 1999

Reviewed by J. Ashley

This somewhat dark tale involves William Monk and his now wife, Hester, tracking a woman who has fled from her fiance's home with no explanation. Monk's investigation takes him from Bayswater to Hamstead Heath, and uncovers a sordid tangle of events from the distant past.

At the same time, Hester faces problems in her hospital. Someone is stealing morphine and other medicines, and the administrator will not listen to Hester's pleas for proper training of the nurses. It is just after the Crimean War, and Florence Nightengale is desperately trying for a reform of nursing practices, but old-guard hospital administrators insist that training nurses is a waste of time, seeing nurses as little more than cleaning women. Hester protests that better nurses will mean higher patient survival rates, but her arguments are ignored.

Monk's investigation intertwines with Hester's hospital troubles, when Monk discovers that a nurse from Hester's hospital might provide the answers he seeks.

Throughout the story, Monk struggles with life as a newlywed, trying to adjust to Hester as his wife, not his sometime partner and rival. Also, Monk is slowly regaining his memory of his past, little flashes here and there of the man he used to be. Hester also struggles with her new obligations as a wife, plus worries that the theft of medicines will do much damage to her pleas for hospital reform.

This is the sixth in the Monk series. As usual, I don't like the darkness or the slow pace of Anne Perry's stories, though she portrays post-Crimea Victorian England with a vivid hand. Her characters, as in her other books, while not always likeable, are real, three-dimensional people.

The plot was a little predictable (and based on an amazing coincidence), and filled with diatribe against the patriarchal system of the time. I always find it odd that Perry's enlightened female protagonists rally hard against the injustice toward women during the day, then hurry home at night, worried about getting their husband's dinner.

Read this book if you enjoy in-depth characterization and an intricate portrait of the problems of Victorian England. If you are reaching for an exciting and mind-bending murder mystery, go elsewhere.

Other books reviewed in this series include A BREACH OF PROMISE and THE SILENT CRY.

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