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Death in Focus: An Elena Standish Novel


Death in Focus: An Elena Standish Novel

As I settled into this novel from the great Anne Perry, which kicks off an all-new series, I expected a relaxing departure from her other work and perhaps a more laid-back sort of mystery involving a young woman who is a shutterbug, trekking across Europe. I could not have been more wrong.

DEATH IN FOCUS is set in the year 1933. World War I is in the past, but there is a fervor growing within a few European countries that shrewd political analysts would recognize as being the start of a confrontation that could only end with another war. Elena Standish, a 28-year-old camera aficionado, and her older sister, Margot, are enjoying a brief vacation from their British home on the beautiful Italian coast of Amalfi. Both are single. Elena just hasn't found the right guy, while Margot’s husband of one week was killed during the final month of WWI.

"DEATH IN FOCUS is a masterpiece of tension and suspense, and Elena Standish is so effective because she can be any one of us. Bravo!"

While mingling among the tourists, Elena makes the acquaintance of a nice young man, Ian Newton. They decide to get together for dinner that night as they are all young English citizens enjoying their last moments in Italy before heading home after a few stops. Ian brings along a friend, Walter Mann, to balance out the table, and they have a delightful night of dining, admiring the view and dancing. However, all of this innocent fun comes to an end when, as Ian is doing the gentlemanly thing by walking Elena to her room, they are interrupted by a blood-curdling scream coming from the balcony directly above them.

Upon entering the room she is about to clean, a housekeeper finds the body of a dead man. Once law enforcement arrives, they ask Elena and Ian if they knew the deceased. Each says no, but Elena is almost certain that Ian is lying. Thus, what could have been a lighthearted “cozy” type of murder mystery has begun with a dark turn and will lead to unexpected outcomes.

We then are taken to England, where Elena and Margot's family resides. Their parents, Charles and Katherine, are very close with their grandparents, Lucas and Josephine. As Perry expertly pulls back the layers of this novel, we learn that at one time Lucas had been a high-ranking figure in British intelligence. Josephine herself had an important and often clandestine role during the war. It is ironic that the family keeps most of what they know or had experienced to themselves, living a quiet life filled with secrets. It is only when Lucas is contacted by Peter Howard, a current high-ranking official in MI6, that we begin to realize that something big will be going down in Germany, where racial intolerance is about to boil over into full-blown violence on a grand scale and Lucas' assistance and expertise may be in demand.

As we return to Amalfi, Ian approaches Elena shortly after the murder at their hotel and asks her to accompany him on a visit to Berlin. He needs to leave immediately, and Elena jumps at the opportunity for further adventures and photo sightseeing. The train ride does not go as expected, though, the first of many brilliant twists scattered throughout the book like land mines.

Without leaking any spoilers, I can attest that nothing goes as planned for any of the central characters, and this may be the best plotted novel Anne Perry has written in years --- which is really saying something. DEATH IN FOCUS is a masterpiece of tension and suspense, and Elena Standish is so effective because she can be any one of us. Bravo!

Reviewed by Ray Palen on November 1, 2019

Death in Focus: An Elena Standish Novel
by Anne Perry