Anne Perry has spread the wealth, so to speak, amongst her many sleuths and protagonists during her five decades of delivering solid, period-piece British mysteries. By far, her favorite protagonists are Charlotte and Thomas Pitt.
DORCHESTER TERRACE marks the 27th entry in the series and presents the husband-and-wife team with the most daunting challenges they may have ever faced. Picking up directly where 2011’s TREASON AT LISSON GROVE left off, we find the Pitts dealing with a situation unlike any they have been presented with to date. Specifically, this is the issue of operating within a higher social caste as a result of Thomas taking over as the new chief of Scotland Yard’s Special Branch.
"[T]he always clever Anne Perry infuses DORCHESTER TERRACE with the right amount of intrigue and complex relationships that have made this prolific series one of the finest in modern mystery fiction."
The reason for this change was revealed in the previous novel as Thomas’ predecessor, Victor Narraway, stepped down from the helm following a scandal that found him accused of being an embezzler of government funds. Even though both Charlotte and Thomas were successful in clearing Narraway’s name, the damage was already done. Thomas now finds himself heading up a group that on the one hand is jealous of his elevation to the cherished top spot in the Special Branch, and on the other hand seriously doubts his abilities to handle this new responsibility.
DORCHESTER TERRACE starts right off with the Pitts attending a society function where they are now expected to rub elbows with London’s elite. There is no crash course available that will prepare them for the back-stabbing politics and precarious relations that would ensure success among the wealthy and elite populace. The reader will cringe along with each page that finds the Pitts stepping with much trepidation into the deep end of the social pool.
It is moments like this that allow Anne Perry to excel. She has consistently depicted all layers of the social spectrum --- from the wealthy to those inhabiting the underground of London’s dark streets --- but this may be the first foray into her characters moving from middle to upper class. In 1896 London, this is no small task as those times were as class-conscious as any in Britain’s history, and who you were was usually determined by which class you were labeled.
This novel presents two different plot lines that eventually converge to create an explosive ending. The first involves Thomas being tasked with ferreting out a potential traitor within the ranks of the Special Branch when word leaks out that an assassination attempt is being planned against the Austrian nobleman, Duke Alois, while traveling aboard the Dover-London rail. Not knowing who to trust places him in a delicate situation, and his failure to act promptly and responsibly could find his tenure as Chief short-lived.
Simultaneous to this crisis is a case where Victor Narraway is investigating the mysterious death of former government agent Serafina Monserrat. Monserrat had a reputation for decades as being a keeper of many state and international secrets, and the dementia she suffered from later in life had those around her concerned that she might blurt out the wrong thing at the wrong time and start an international incident. Hence, there are many powerful people who wanted her permanently silenced.
Thomas must rely once again on the aid of his industrious wife to assist in revealing the dark secret information that Monserrat may have possessed that could potentially tie into the assassination attempt on Duke Alois. Could the assassination merely be a ruse to distract Thomas and the Special Branch from a larger plot? Or are things being allowed to spin madly out of control in an effort to bring Thomas and his team down for good? These questions, along with many juicy moral dilemmas, drive the plot forward as the always clever Anne Perry infuses DORCHESTER TERRACE with the right amount of intrigue and complex relationships that have made this prolific series one of the finest in modern mystery fiction.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on April 13, 2012