Anne Perry’s 17th Victorian mystery featuring Commander William Monk picks up right where the previous installment, EXECUTION DOCK, left off. ACCEPTABLE LOSS is by far the bleakest and darkest entry in the series yet, and readers will not be prepared for twists and turns that lay in wait for Monk in this extremely tense novel.
"It will be up to the reader to decide, long after the final page is turned, if justice did indeed triumph..."
Having seen the evil Jericho Phillips put away for good in a court case that pitted Monk against his friend, Oliver Rathbone, it seemed that the worst was behind them. Rathbone is a highly ethical lawyer who defended Phillips even though he was aware of the horrible allegations brought against him. As a Commander of the Thames River Police, Monk uncovered a ring of prostitution, human trafficking and abuse of young boys that involved underworld figures as well as some highly respectable and powerful members of local government.
Working in conjunction with his wife, Nurse Hester Monk, Monk saw the Phillips case through to the end and justice triumphed. Additionally, the couple took in a young lad named Scuff who had been rescued from his imprisonment on one of Phillips’s boats. The Monks are still quite shaken from the revelations of their recent involvement with the Phillips case and are equally challenged to make a home for the boy and help him forget the nightmares he has already experienced in his short life.
Before Monk is able to catch a breath, another body is found aboard a boat on the Thames. This time, the victim is a member of the criminal underground, a minor player named Mickey Parfitt. Parfitt has long been connected with the same group that Phillips ran with, and no one sheds a tear when his body turns up strangled by a silk cravat that is still around his skinny neck.
Monk finds himself in familiar territory as Rathbone is once against pitted against him as the defense attorney in the Parfitt murder case. Making things even stickier is the fact that the accused is Arthur Ballinger, who is not only a well-respected man but also Rathbone’s father-in-law. Ballinger himself is a fellow solicitor, and Rathbone feels the pressure both from his wife, Margaret, and other powerful members of London society who want this blasphemous accusation against one of their own quickly swept away.
It will not be easy, as Solicitor Winchester is opposing Rathbone as the lead prosecutor and operating under the evidence provided by Monk. The defense is looking to pin the murder on Rupert Cardew, the wild son of a wealthy member of London society and an individual known to dabble in the world of prostitution. The reason Rathbone is seeking to divert attention to Cardew is the fact that the silk cravat used to strangle Parfitt is proven to have been his. However, Cardew swears he has an alibi for the night of the murder and contends that the cravat had been taken from him a few days prior.
Monk’s investigation uncovers a prostitute, Hattie Benson, who admits to taking Cardew’s cravat. Unfortunately, she herself is viciously murdered just prior to being called into the case as a witness. Monk and Winchester now face an uphill battle, as the prime witness who could have cleared Cardew is dead. They have no choice but to attempt a further investigation whereby they can also pin Benson’s murder on Ballinger --- claiming that his need to eliminate her testimony was his only chance at having his name cleared and escaping a death sentence.
ACCEPTABLE LOSS is a difficult book to describe. There is far less mystery and much more political play involved in the Mickey Parfitt murder case, and all of the principal characters are put in positions where none of them can escape untarnished by whatever outcome is decided. The tone is quite dark, and the ethical and moral quandaries created by the murder of one of society’s worst elements make it difficult to find a side to root for. Monk himself has to concede that no man better deserved death than Parfitt. Still, justice must be served. It will be up to the reader to decide, long after the final page is turned, if justice did indeed triumph, or if the damage left in the wake of this case actually does more harm than good to those left to continue with their lives once the jury’s decision is in.
Anne Perry has indeed created a terrific novel that begs for book clubs to discuss and debate at length.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on August 18, 2011