Thursday, August 21, 2014

Belgrave Square by Anne Perry

Posted by Yuma County Library

Reviewed by: Becky Brendel

What I Read: Belgrave Square by Anne Perry

Find It @ YCLD: Here!

What It's About: Twelfth in a series featuring Victorian police inspector Thomas Pitt, his wife Charlotte, and her well-to-do relatives, Belgrave Square finds Pitt investigating the murder of a petty usurer only to discover his death may be connected to a mysterious secret society.

What I Thought: Once you've read one Pitt novel, it's hard to say that you've read them all - Perry is too good at creating memorable characters, many of whom return in later installments or become important in unexpected ways, for that - but you get a decent idea of what you're in for and Belgrave Square is no exception. Perry's "mysteries" rarely play fair with the reader; instead of piecing the mystery together via clues, she dangles psychological hints and uses physical evidence as red herrings. She then reveals a new piece of information in the last chapter that both solves the crime and punishes the murderer. This system makes for suspenseful reading since there's no way to know for certain what happened until the end - there's a piece of the jigsaw puzzle still in the box, so to speak - but would really irritate anyone who likes to try and "beat" the fictional detective to solving the case, so consider this a warning.

The rest of the novel also hits the plot and thematic points featured in previous installments: a suspenseful combination of comedy-of-manners sleuthing and more traditional procedural work, personal crises for the Pitts and their families, and a socially-charged "hot topic" issue equally relevant in modern times. Perry has relaxed her criticisms of Victorian society's repressiveness by this point in the series, but still uses that repression as a rationale for why her murderers kill. It's hard to forget that Perry herself is a convicted murderer when she starts soapboxing, though, and I'm tired of her attempts to rationalize murder. I'm even sicker of her refusal to include homosexual characters who aren't murder victims, murderers, or both; happy endings for non-heteronormative characters are rare enough that seeing a bias against them in a series supposedly about sympathy for the oppressed is jarring and discouraging.

But enough of the bad stuff. Taken on its own this novel works great as a piece of historical suspense fiction - I had absolutely no idea whodunnit until the final chapter, so her missing puzzle piece really stumped me - and the actual diction itself is top-notch. Perry can turn a phrase like no other; her characters, especially the regulars, are all colorful and distinct and a joy to spend time with, which is crucial for a long series like this. What's more, this novel sets up a subplot that returns with a literal vengeance many times over in later books, making Belgrave Square a great starting point for sampling the series. (Plus Pitt accepts Charlotte's help more freely this time. Hooray for evolving long-term relationships! And an extra hooray for solving mysteries via gossip!)

In short: a fun but frustrating installment in a fun but frustrating series, where even its flaws are food for thought. As long as that stays the same, I'll keep reading - I'm too enamored with Perry's writing and characters to quit!

Readalikes: The Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (of course); the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear (for more elegantly-written psychological social-commentary mysteries about female sleuths)

Or look this book up on NoveList!