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By Anne Perry
Ballantine, 2006 ($25.95)
Reviewed by Shirley H. Wetzel
London, Dec. 1863. William Monk, who recently left his job as a private detective to return to law enforcement with the Thames River Police, is on routine patrol on a bitterly cold morning when he sees a young couple struggling on a bridge. The fog makes is difficult to see what happens next, but both parties fall over the railing. Was it suicide, murder, or a tragic accident? Monk and his companions in the boat can't be sure. The victims are quickly identified, and Monk sets out to uncover the truth. In Victorian London, a ruling of suicide brought shame to the family, and prevented the deceased from being buried in hallowed ground, and Monk hopes he can spare the beautiful young woman such a fate. Mary Havilland, he learns, was despondent over her father's recent suicide. Her brother-in-law, Alan Argyll, owner of the Argyll Construction Company for which he worked, says that she was obsessed with proving that he'd been murdered. The man who died with her was Toby Argyll, Alan's brother, and until recently Mary's fiancé.
In the aftermath of the Big Stink - the time when the overflowing sewer system made London air almost unbreathable, and Queen Victoria's beloved Prince Albert succumbed to typhoid, a major public works project has begun. The Argyll brothers are heavily involved in the construction of the new system. Mary's father had been convinced bad things were going to happen, and had made a nuisance of himself all over town as he tried to convince someone in authority that the construction plans were flawed. Monk begins to suspect Mary might have been right, that Mr. Havilland could have rattled the wrong cage and gotten himself killed for coming too close to the truth. Despite his fear of being trapped in close spaces, he descends into the dangerous world that lies beneath the city to see for himself what is really going on. In this quest he is assisted by wife Hester, her friend Sutton the rat catcher and his talented terrier, Snoot, and Scuff, the street urchin Monk befriended in his last adventure. Perry depicts a fascinating glimpse into this world where thousands of years of history and natural forces meet, where man must tread carefully or suffer the consequences.
This is the 15th book in the Monk series, and Perry manages to keep the stories interesting and educational, giving the reader a glimpse into Victorian London in all its diversity, from the drawing rooms of the high and mighty to the most impoverished slums.
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