RogerBW's Blog

A Sudden Fearful Death, Anne Perry 26 January 2019

1993 mystery, fourth in Perry's William Monk series (Victorian investigation). In 1857, at the Royal Free Hospital, a nurse is found murdered and stuffed down the laundry-chute; she was one of the new breed of nurse back from the Crimea, and while she was undoubtedly good at her job she seems to have annoyed everyone too. With the police unimpressive, Monk's patron Lady Callandra Daviot (also a trustee of the hospital) asks him to investigate.

So we're in for a lot of well-researched stuff about how everyone assume nurses are basically hospital skivvies, drinking and fornicating and no good for serious work, while those back from the Crimea have dangerous new ideas like fresh air. Well-researched it is, but also gone into with perhaps excessive repetition; everyone feels the need to tell everyone else things they should all already know.

And when abortion comes into the picture (still a criminal offence at this date to give or to receive one) the repetition continues; all abortionists are either surgeons acting secretly, or "back-street", always described with just that term. In previous books it's been very obvious that all the good people are on the side of modern attitudes and all the bad people favour the historical model; here there's just a little more doubt, as if Perry has remembered that to people of the period abortion was considered a fairly horrifying thing.

With very little evidence to be found by the initial investigation, it's rather jarring when a bit over half-way through the book a packet of letters is handed over to Monk that seem to make an obvious case; although the implication is entirely out of character for the victim's other behaviour, nobody stops to try to work out what it might mean before rushing away and arresting the most obvious suspect – and yes, sure enough, we get more implausible courtroom theatrics through the second half of the book.

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Meanwhile the slow-burn romance between Monk and Hester Latterly continues; as before, while it feels it might be getting somewhere, the end of the book intervenes abruptly and there's nothing like a resolution to anything except the most immediate matters.

It's all rather slow going and repetitive, but I find myself still enjoying this series. Followed by The Sins of the Wolf.

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Previous in series: Defend and Betray | Series: William Monk | Next in series: The Sins of the Wolf

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