” He despised cowardice; it was the root of all the weaknesses he hated most. Anger he could understand, thoughtlessness, impatience, greed, even though they were ugly enough—but without courage what were there to fire or to preserve any virtue, honor or integrity? Without the courage to sustain it, not even love was safe. ” (Ch.11, p.359)
William Monk Mystery #3
The third William Monk mystery involves another prestigious house, that of a Colonel Carlyon. The Victorian London society is shocked by the bizarre but grisly killing of General Thaddeus Carlyon during a dinner party at the elegant home of Maxim and Louisa Furnival. It looks like sheer misfortune: the general, a revered man with the most upright character and virtue, has fallen over the banister so hard and so accurately upon the point of a halberd held by an inanimate suit of armor. Immeasurably worse is that it’s no accident. Even more shocking is the admission of Alexandra, the General’s wife, that she had murdered him in a jealous rage.
Better than that, the attention in Alexandra’s eyes betrayed trhat she was still acutely involved in the matter. In no way had she resigned interest merely because the answer eluded them but left the guilt undeniable. (Ch.5, p.153)
Meanwhile, the General’s sister Edith is convinced that Alexandra had another motive—it must be something so secret and dreadful that she would rather hang than tell anyone. She enlists the help of her close friend Hester Latterly, who brings into the case famed lawyer Oliver Rathbone, and ex-police officer Thomas Monk. Together, they delicately probe the lives of the Carlyon family—Thaddeus’s father, a retired colonel; his forbidding mother Felicia, who insists that a fit of madness in Alexandra has turned homicidal and calls for case closure; Thaddeus’s high-strung daughter Sabella, and his young son Cassian. Monk manages to prove beyond any question at all that it was Alexandra who killed her husband, but out of a completely different and darker motive.
The murder mystery becomes a quest for truth and why she did it. The uncovering of Alexandra’s secrets comes about halfway through the book and the rest is to prove and to convince jurors. Along the way Perry drops a few red herrings indicating that Alexandra might not be the killer, but the question always rewinds back to square one. The pace quickens and the intrigue intensifies as Alexandra’s trial nears. The final revelations—over a prolonged court proceeding with many cross-examinations and twists and turns—are shocking and riveting. The real tragedy of the book is the monstrous social condition in which women, regardless of their social and married status, live in. Women are deprived of rights to protect their children and to divorce abusive spouses. Hester’s determination to be herself in spite of society’s prejudiced, ill-formed attitudes of women perfectly accentuates the monstrosity into which Alexandra and Felicia are trapped. It’s a book that shows how we all have tendency to see people as good and evil; and it is so much easier on the brain and emotions.
429 pp. Ballantine Books. Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]