RogerBW's Blog

Defend and Betray, Anne Perry 11 September 2018

1993 mystery, third in Perry's William Monk series (Victorian investigation). In 1857, General Thaddeus Carlyon, a military hero, dies in an accident during a dinner party; but when the police decide it might have been murder, his widow confesses. She is sure to be hanged, but the justification she gives for her action is clearly false; Monk the private investigator, Oliver Rathbone the barrister, and Hester Latterly the nurse returned from the Crimea, work together to dig out what really happened.

It's all a very slow business, with key passages being given repeatedly as various people talk to each other, and the whole thing drowns under period detail that's poured on with an over-generous hand. All the good people find the legal position of women horrible – which, yes, it was, but if that had been such a common feeling as is presented here, female ownership of property and rights in their children wouldn't have taken further decades to become law. Instead, by casually espousing these revolutionary ideas and not apparently realising that they are revolutionary, the principals end up feeling like modern people transplanted into the Victorian age.

The reason for the killing can be summed up in a sentence, and it's one that's spoken about two-thirds of the way through the book. Most of the final third consists of court-room scenes, in which Rathbone tries to swing a jury from "hang her now" to "the minimum sentence allowed by law"… but the two supposed principals of the series, Monk and Hester, suffer by comparison, especially when Monk also has to squeeze in a sub-plot about a recurring vision from his pre-amnesia life.

(And the judge has a gavel. No English judge has ever had a gavel; its presence here reeks of too much research done by watching American legal dramas. So do the courtroom theatrics by Rathbone, which seem fairly excessive even for those same legal dramas.)

However, that mid-book revelation means that much of the first section is spent on going round in circles while waiting to receive it, and the parts of the latter section that aren't set in the court mostly go round in circles trying to get other bits of information to let Rathbone win the case. One particular secret is revealed entirely without need (vg frrzf gb zr gung "V ernyvfrq gung guvf obl unq orra nohfrq whfg yvxr gur bgure obl V'q frra ba n qvssrerag bppnfvba" jbhyq or whfg nf rssrpgvir n eriryngvba nf "V ernyvfrq gung guvf obl jnf zl vyyrtvgvzngr fba, naq gung ur unq orra nohfrq rgp."). But all the bad people come to bad ends, or at least social ruin, so that's all right.

I think this book would have been better with a razor-happy editor, and less of a disproportionate emphasis on Rathbone (who's clearly destined to lose out to Monk in the slow-burn romatic rivalry). The research is mostly pretty good, but I could have used less of it and more of the people. Followed by A Sudden, Fearful Death.

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Previous in series: A Dangerous Mourning | Series: William Monk | Next in series: A Sudden, Fearful Death

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