Review

Buckingham Palace Gardens

by Anne Perry

Anne
Perry is a prolific writer of historical and Victorian-era
mysteries, most of which feature either Thomas and Charlotte Pitt
or William Monk. BUCKINGHAM PALACE GARDENS is her 25th novel with
the Pitts. The only difference here is that Thomas Pitt does not
have the assistance of his wife, Charlotte. Instead, he must call
upon his own cockney servant, Gracie Phipps, to go undercover as a
member of the Buckingham Palace household staff in order to assist
him in uncovering the guilty party or parties.

In BUCKINGHAM PALACE GARDENS, Perry has created a Sherlock
Holmes-like “locked door” mystery. The body of a
prostitute has been found, nude and butchered, in the linen closet.
This has all the markings of a series of gruesome murders that
occurred a few years prior in the Whitechapel area of London. What
makes this case particularly difficult for Inspector Thomas Pitt is
the fact that no one can come and go easily from Buckingham Palace
without being seen by the guards. Therefore, Pitt has to interview
all the people who were inside Buckingham Palace the night of the
murder.

The list of suspects includes four proper couples as well as all of
the household and personal servants. The Queen is traveling abroad,
so the Prince and Princess of Wales are left to entertain the
couples at Buckingham Palace. The purpose of their visit is for the
four gentlemen, led by the elder Cahoon Dunkeld, to get the
Prince’s support on a proposed railway that would extend from
London into the heart of Africa; it would open up commerce in a
major way and make Great Britain the true power in Europe.
Meanwhile, both the personal servants of each of the guests and
those employed in the Palace are infiltrated by Gracie.

The head of the Buckingham Palace servant staff is Mr. Tyndale, the
only person on the inside aware that the new housekeeper, Sophie,
is actually a plant working for Pitt and the Special Services
Branch. The fact that the Prince of Wales and his four gentlemen
guests had a private party following a meeting that included local
street prostitutes makes things even more difficult for Pitt as he
is expected to sift through clues in a discretionary and expedient
manner.

What transpires is quite reminiscent of the British
“Upstairs, Downstairs” class dramas that have been seen
in many prior novels of this period as well as in films like
Gosford Park. While Perry’s writing is
always engaging, I found it far more interesting to read the
passages involving the “downstairs” group of servants
--- written in the same cockney voice as Gracie Phipps herself. The
“upstairs” suspects, the well-to-do guests of the
Prince of Wales, come across as tiresome and boorish after lengthy
dialogues, and it was difficult for me to decide who to hang the
murder rap on since they were all very unlikable and morally
questionable characters.

The story and investigation take a significant turn when the wife
of one of the gentlemen turns up dead in the same manner as the
butchered prostitute. Clues point to the husband of the victim, who
is also the daughter of elder gentlemen Cahoon Dunkeld. Perry
produces several clues and red herrings, including a mysterious box
of books delivered to Dunkeld the night of the first murder, blood
found in bottles of Port, broken pieces of china from an expensive
Limoges dish and a set of the bloody bed sheets that came from the
absent Queen’s bedroom. Pitt is also made aware that a woman
had been murdered in similar fashion a few years prior during a
scouting trip to Africa in which one of the gentlemen was
present.

Though I found the upper class guests and the Prince of Wales to be
fairly unlikable characters, the constant secrecy and misdirection
this tale poses nevertheless kept me guessing until the end. I
particularly enjoyed the fact that one of the characters was
reading THE PORTRAIT OF DORIAN GRAY by Oscar Wilde, a tale of a man
seeking to change his own destiny by eternally preserving his
youth. In similar ways, the gentlemen are proposing to alter their
own --- and Great Britain’s --- destiny by building an
African railway and are tempting fate. The proposal of this grand
undertaking is best described by another character, developer
Watson Forbes, who states: “Such a railway would cut through
the heart of a country and vandalize the soul of it.”

It is safe to say that several of the souls in BUCKINGHAM PALACE
GARDENS are permanently vandalized by a greed that leads them to
commit unthinkable acts.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on January 11, 2011

Buckingham Palace Gardens
by Anne Perry

  • Publication Date: March 25, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345469313
  • ISBN-13: 9780345469311