” But in the death of Grey there was quite different passion, something intimate, a bond of hatred between the killer and the killed . . . Grey’s flat oppressed him and he could never free his mind from the violence that had happened there. It was not the blood, or even the death that clug to him, but the hate. ” (Ch.5, p.120)
William Monk Mystery #1
The first book of the William Monk mystery series has a brilliant cold opening: the title detective is not introduced like Holmes or Peter Wimsey, with a full set of eccentricities and inhuman perspicacity, but as a completely black slate—he has total amnesia. William Monk wakes up in a hospital following a near-fatal carriage accident, with no recollection of his life or even an idea of his identity. After a few weeks of recovery, he returns to work to tackle a grisly murder, of Joscelin Grey, the youngest son of Shelburne House, who had been brutally beaten to death in his London flat. The family insists on the culprit being a maniac or a hooligan who has no connection to high society, for a gentleman of unusual charm with no vices and weaknesses should not be a target of murder.
He had been there, inside Grey’s flat; it was incontrovertible. But he had not followed Grey; he had gone afterwards, independently, knowing where to find him. So he had Grey, known where he lived. (Ch.11, p.282)
Monk’s amnesia complicates the story and adds to the intrigue. He tries to cover up his loss of memory while investigating purely on instinct and intelligence—all from scratch. He discovers that previously, before his carriage accident, he has been embroiled in the case of Latterly, who committed suicide out of shame after a failed investment in a dubious business enterprise. Hester Latterly, the victim’s daughter, is an intelligent and independent woman who had been a nurse in the Crimea. She finds herself continually frustrated by the incompetence and stupidity of those in power, who in the comfort of homes have the slightest idea of reality. She is strong-willed and not afraid to speak her mind, thus making her the partner in solving the crime, even though she and Monk lock horns the very first time they meet.
I do not care a great deal for charm. But it always seems chameleon to me, and I cannot be sure what color the animal underneath might be really.
The book is told from Monk’s perspective and naturally, he has to battle with this loss of memory and often back-tracks his investigation. As he digs through the victim’s social circles and financial liaisons, he comes to unveil corruption, treachery, and deception that entangle Hester’s family and the Grey family. The third-person narrative style allows the author to jump over to what appears to be a completely unrelated story with a thoroughly likable heroine in a different hierarchy of society and follow that story until the two plots slowly, and seamlessly, with surprises galore, merge. Perry’s characters are complex, flawed, and authentic. She doesn’t spare the squalor of the Victorian age, nor waste any opportunity to lambaste on the hypocrites who claim to be of genteel rearing but whose endeavors are as pathetic and treacherous as those in the underworld league of fraud and vices.
345 pp. Ballatine Books. Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]