Review

Funeral in Blue

by Anne Perry

One
of my favorite series of books when I was in grade school was what
I called the "We Were There" series. The concept behind these works
of juvenile historical fiction was to feature children usually
between the ages of 10-17 (by no small coincidence, the age group
at which the series was aimed) at a moment of historical impact. I
unfortunately can't remember any of the titles, but they were along
the lines of "We Were There with Lee and Grant at Appomatox," "We
Were There At the Boston Tea Party," and so on. These volumes
helped to foster my love of historical fiction, and when such
fiction is wedded with the mystery genre, I'm a guaranteed
mark.

Barbara Hambly's underrated series of books featuring Benjamin
January is probably the best example of historical mysteries that
you will find on this shore, while Anne Perry holds sway if you
take a swim to the opposite side of the pond. Perry has two series
going, one featuring Thomas and Charlotte Pitt and the other
involving an intriguing ex-policeman turned private investigator
(before such an occupation had a proper name) named William Monk
and his wife Hester. FUNERAL IN BLUE, Perry's latest novel, is of
the Monk series and is possibly her most ambitious to date.

I've one quibble with FUNERAL IN BLUE, which I'll get out of the
way at the beginning. It's Perry's 11th book to feature William
Monk, so there's a lot of backstory going on. If you're jumping on
board the series now, it's like riding on a running board ---
you're going to be a bit unbalanced here and there and frequently
think that you're going to fall off; but if you keep moving, you'll
be okay. FUNERAL IN BLUE is like that, and Perry's ability to lend
a steadying hand to new readers, to bring what has gone before
while keeping the story moving, is somewhat wanting. It can be
done; Hambly, for one, does an excellent job of it with each new
January volume. It is somewhat of a distraction in FUNERAL IN BLUE
--- a minor one, but a distraction nonetheless. Ultimately,
however, the reader, like the running board passenger, will get
where they are going if they just hang on.

Monk is an interesting character, an amnesiac who has no memory and
little knowledge of what his life was like five years prior to the
events of FUNERAL IN BLUE. Hester, Monk's wife, is a nurse at a
London hospital. The immediate tale is set in mid-19th Century
London; the streets are awash with news of the "War Between the
States" in America, and the connection between physical and
psychological conditions is just beginning to be fully explored.
The city is rocked by the murders of two women in the studio of a
famous artist. One of the women is referred to, with a slightly
raised eyebrow and a wink, as a "model." The other is the wife of
Dr. Kristian Beck, a surgeon who is a colleague of Hester Monk and
Lady Callandra Daviot, a wealthy widow who has discrete, unrequited
designs upon Beck. Beck is quickly suspected to be the murderer of
the women and is summarily arrested, and Daviot entreats William
Monk to undertake an investigation to demonstrate Beck's innocence
and to find the true murderer.

Monk's investigation, unlike those of modern investigators, is
carried out with the police. The Beck investigation is carried out
by Inspector Runcorn, an individual with whom Beck shares a mutual
dislike and a grudging respect. Monk gradually discovers that
Elissa Beck had secrets the likes of which were bringing ruin and
the potential for shame upon her husband, and which also gave him
ample motive for murdering her. Monk soon finds, with each new
discovery he makes concerning both the past and present of the
victim and the accused, that he is actually and unintentionally
proving the case of the People vs. Beck. Monk's integrity is such,
however, that he must pursue the truth, wherever it may lead, even
if it goes against the man he is ostensibly trying to save.

Perry's narrative weaves through the somewhat complicated storyline
of FUNERAL IN BLUE quite nicely. She is never hurried, yet her
pacing is such that the story never drags. Perry tosses in bits and
pieces about life in London and the social customs under which it
functioned, and does it in the manner of the best of historical
fiction, slipping factoids in as secondary points so smoothly that
one barely notices that they are there. Yet, taken together, they
form a wonderful and important foundation for the novel itself. One
can see where we were, how we arrived at where we are, and in some
cases, where we may be going.

FUNERAL IN BLUE does not resolve any issues raised in the previous
volumes of the Monk series and raises a couple of new scenarios,
which, no doubt, will be addressed in future novels. Newer readers
will be tempted to visit the previous Monk books and should do so
in order to enhance their enjoyment of FUNERAL IN BLUE and the
chronicles yet to come.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011

Funeral in Blue
by Anne Perry

  • Publication Date: October 2, 2001
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345440013
  • ISBN-13: 9780345440013