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by Anne Perry
Ballantine, March 2009
320 pages
ISBN: 034546933X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

As faithful readers know, William Monk lost his memory when he was a policeman probably from getting hit on the head. He tried work as a private detective but is now commander of the Thames River Police and married to Hester, a nurse who served in the Crimean War. He took over command when the previous commander Durban died saving lives six months before this book opens.

One major case is left unsolved, and Monk is about to close it. He chases Jericho Phillips, a man who he knows has tortured and murdered a young boy and who keeps a stable of boys for the gratification of wealthy adults, and captures him. But Sir Oliver Rathbone is hired to defend Phillips and does such a brilliant job that the jury acquits him. Monk, who was sloppy with his testimony, blames himself, and he and Hester set out to find enough evidence to convict Phillips of some crime and get him off the river.

As always Anne Perry does a magnificent job of presenting the historical background and the setting. London in the 1860s comes alive. The dock area, far different from today, is a jumble of wharfs and warehouses, dark alleys lined by all the businesses that cater to sailors, lighters and barges criss-crossing the water, and over all the hum of business getting transacted. It is not a safe place for a civilian to wander. Young boys who are throwaways scavenge the mudflats when the tide is out, beg, and steal. There is alway work for the Thames River Police.

But of course the law smiles more favorably on the wealthy than on the poor, and when the investigations of Monk and Hester began to shed light upon prominent and important men, the whispers begin that the police deliberately framed Phillips and that Monk is incompetent. Soon he is desperately defending himself as well as trying to find evidence against Phillips.

The class system is alive and well in nineteenth century London. Monk and Hester really do not fit anywhere because they defy and ignore the conventions. But the reader gets a brutal and explicit picture of the poor, the unwanted, the disabled, and how they are ignored and used.

Monk is a very introspective man (as most of Perry's characters are). He is unsure of himself and full of self-doubt. He questions his abilities and how he presented his evidence. As he investigates further, there seems to be some indication that Durban, his predecessor and hero, may have been tarnished. It is difficult for Monk to accept the idea of grays. He would like to see everything as white and black, right and wrong. He learns some more about himself and how all people have weaknesses as well as strengths.

The story is well-told and moves along quite nicely. There is excitement, tension, a brilliant trial, suspense, and a satisfying conclusion.

Reviewed by Sally A. Fellows, February 2009

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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