What is the nature of rape? It is an act of violence, typically perpetrated by men against women, that is fueled more by hatred and control than anything sexual. In Victorian England times, it is a crime that often fails to produce any suspects and rarely sees someone brought to justice.
Anne Perry’s latest Charlotte and Thomas Pitt novel, MIDNIGHT AT MARBLE ARCH, delves into this controversial subject. The end result may be her most intense and thrilling novel to date. Most of her mysteries involve the protagonists traversing the social strata of the times and seeking to uncover the moral heart at the center of the dilemma. This latest effort is no exception.
"MIDNIGHT AT MARBLE ARCH is stunning and insightful from start to finish, and features a trial sequence that may be the best Perry has written to date."
MIDNIGHT AT MARBLE ARCH begins with two horrific incidents, occurring nearly simultaneously, and will involve the cooperation of a team of individuals to sort through each act to discover the truth. The first incident takes place at a party held at the Spanish Embassy. The teenage daughter of the Portuguese ambassador is seen running away from someone --- her dress in disarray and fearing for her life --- by Charlotte Pitt.
Lord Victor Narraway, former head of Special Branch and now a civilian, is in attendance at the same party and finds himself involved in a long discussion with a wealthy banker named Rawdon Quixwood. A police officer enters the party and is met by Thomas Pitt, the current head of Special Branch. The officer is there to gather up Mr. Quixwood as it turns out that his wife, Catherine, has been found dead in her bedroom.
Catherine Quixwood appears to have taken her own life by overdosing on laudanum; this following an alleged attack that left her badly beaten as well as being a victim of rape. Narraway accompanies Mr. Quixwood back to the house and intervenes with lead investigator Knox on his behalf. It has the appearance of being a “closed door” crime as the house staff had locked all the doors and the perpetrator could only have been let in by Catherine herself.
Following this incident, the daughter of the Portuguese ambassador, Angeles Castelbranco, commits suicide by launching herself through a second story window in full view of several people. Mr. Castelbranco claims that his daughter was still traumatized by the attempted rape that took place earlier and points a guilty finger at Neville Forsbrook, the son of a powerful and wealthy man. Pitt works this case while Narraway continues to stay involved with the Quixwood case.
When a friend of the Quixwoods is brought forth as the alleged lover of Catherine, he is quickly put to trial at the Old Bailey on the grounds of having violently murdered her. This all seems far too neat for Pitt and Narraway. Could the Castelbranco and Quixwood cases be linked? If so, does a third attack on another young woman signify that a homicidal serial rapist is still at large?
Anne Perry poses some serious issues in this novel --- issues that are still relevant in modern society. The biggest fear Pitt and his colleagues face is their powerlessness in the face of these horrific crimes. He laments that the British Empire stretches around the world yet cannot protect women from the depraved among us. MIDNIGHT AT MARBLE ARCH is stunning and insightful from start to finish, and features a trial sequence that may be the best Perry has written to date.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on April 19, 2013