The 18th novel in Anne Perry’s brilliant William Monk series wastes no time getting into the mystery at the heart of this story.
When Monk, commander of the River Police, discovers the mutilated female corpse of what appears to be a prostitute on the site of the Limehouse Pier, he is instantly alarmed. The crime was not only extremely brutal, it seems to have been done in an attempt to hide the true identity of the victim --- an alleged prostitute named Zenia Gadney. As the investigation begins with interviews of the local prostitutes, Monk uncovers an interesting fact. For a period of several years, Zenia was visited by only one gentleman, and his identity was unknown to all of the women who witnessed his visitations.
"Once this novel takes a dark turn into the opium wars between England and China...the truth is revealed to Monk --- and the reader --- and unexpected twists and revelations keep the plot humming with typical Anne Perry deception and wit. The William Monk novels have always possessed a strong moral core, and A SUNLESS SEA is no exception."
Monk realizes that Zenia was not just the mere victim of a brutal random killer, but may have been murdered to silence her from revealing secrets that could damage some very important people. The investigation reveals that the gentleman in question who had been meeting with Zenia was Dr. Lambourn, a well-respected physician who, as it turns out, committed suicide shortly after the discovery of Zenia’s corpse.
Monk questions Lambourn’s widow, Dinah, who seems to have been aware of her husband’s visits with Zenia. She also does not show anything but acceptance for whatever relationship her last husband had with the mysterious Zenia. She does take offense to the idea that he may have committed suicide, believing he was murdered by the same people who silenced Zenia. The question Monk needs answered is why?
As Lambourn seems to be the only person acquainted with the victim of a horrible crime, all suspicion begins to fall on Dinah. Since admitting to knowing about her husband’s trysts, she has become the top suspect in both murders. Still, Monk believes in Dinah’s innocence and suspects there is something far more sinister at play. He asks his friend, the brilliant barrister Oliver Rathbone, to represent Dinah.
When the trial begins --- and it is one of the better trial sequences Anne Perry has ever written --- Rathbone has the deck stacked against him as his client refuses to give him any motive for why her husband and his mysterious lady friend may have been murdered. It is up to Monk to continue his investigation behind the scenes to establish this, thus keeping Dinah from being convicted and hung. The only problem is that there are some powerful people in the government who are manipulating members of the court and the police department to keep Monk from finding out the truth.
The title “A Sunless Sea” comes from a poem by Thomas De Quincey and refers to man’s dependency on opium. Once this novel takes a dark turn into the opium wars between England and China, as well as the internal government battle to curb this drug, the truth is revealed to Monk --- and the reader --- and unexpected twists and revelations keep the plot humming with typical Anne Perry deception and wit. The William Monk novels have always possessed a strong moral core, and A SUNLESS SEA is no exception.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on September 7, 2012