Death on Blackheath: A Charlotte and Thomas Pitt Novel
There's just no stopping Anne Perry. Other prolific writers of popular fiction simply give too much literary output each year, with the result being some watered-down final products. Not so with Perry. Readers have come to expect annual entries in her terrific Charlotte and Thomas Pitt, William Monk and Christmas mystery series. She also will occasionally venture into stand-alone historical fiction.
DEATH ON BLACKHEATH marks the 28th entry in the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series (the protagonists have also appeared in several of her Christmas mysteries). Once again, the Victorian England backdrop is the ideal setting for these charming yet complex characters. Perry has truly created her own fictional world set amidst real-life historical events, and it is always a delight to travel back in time with these characters.
"If you look hard behind the mystery presented, you will be rewarded with some compelling political and social commentary on a violent and turbulent time in British history."
The novel takes no time in getting things moving as the first paragraph describes a scene of terrible violence. Shattered glass, clumps of blood and hair cover the pavement behind a home in Blackheath, the owner of which is no average citizen: Dudley Kynaston, a key member of Britain's Ministry of Defense. The time is January 1897, and Thomas Pitt of London's Special Branch is called in to investigate. The trouble is that there is no corpse or injured person to be found. However, one of the Kynastons’ maids --- a young woman by the name of Kitty Ryder --- has gone missing. Could the evidence found in the alleyway behind Kynaston's home point to the missing maid?
Pitt and his assistant, Stoker, immediately question all members of the Kynaston household and find them to be somewhat resistant and perturbed at the inquiry --- particularly Kynaston and his wife, Rosalind. The investigation will need to proceed with nothing more to go on than the remnants of violence discovered in the alleyway.
It is not long before a body is found in a nearby gravel pit. It is clearly that of a woman, but so badly mutilated that identification is impossible. Could this be the body of Ryder and, if so, why was she so horribly disfigured? Pitt's inquiries of Kynaston draw some political blowback --- particularly from the new Prime Minister, Edom Talbot. Talbot does not want any publicity of this disappearance and gives express instructions that Pitt not make a move without checking with the P.M. office first.
The apparently unsolvable mystery that is thrust upon Pitt causes him to call on the aid of a number of regular characters in this series --- specifically, his wife Charlotte, her sister Emily, and Pitt's predecessor, Victor Narraway. When another mutilated body shows up, while Ryder continues to be among the missing, comparisons to other horrific crimes in the area are made. Perry goes out of her way to reference events from two prior Pitt novels --- the first in the series, THE CATER STREET HANGMAN, and RESURRECTION ROW. Loyal readers will enjoy these allusions.
Pitt recognizes that there is much more going on here; the missing maid and the two mutilated corpses may have been intended to cast suspicion on Kynaston. This will draw Pitt into investigating the top-secret assignments Kynaston is working on for the Ministry of Defense and provides some eye-opening revelations. Perry's Victorian mysteries never disappoint. If you look hard behind the mystery presented, you will be rewarded with some compelling political and social commentary on a violent and turbulent time in British history.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on March 28, 2014