Skip to main content

Shoulder the Sky


Shoulder the Sky

I occasionally encounter a mystery fan who has never read a book by
Anne Perry. This surprises me. It doesn't happen often, but it
certainly occurs more than it should. She has had two different
series of historical mysteries going: the first being the Charlotte
and Thomas Pitt novels, which were first introduced in 1979, and
the second being the somewhat darker William Monk volumes. Perry
began a third series last year, and it's the one that has somewhat
become my early favorite. I don't think they have a proper name as
yet, but I'm calling them, for our purposes here, the Reavley
books. The first was NO GRAVES AS YET, and this new one is SHOULDER
THE SKY. If you're a fan of traditional mysteries, you need to read
these novels, particularly the latter.

SHOULDER THE SKY is set against the backdrop of World War I, as was
NO GRAVES AS YET. But if you didn't read NO GRAVES AS YET, it won't
impede your enjoyment of her latest, as Perry does an excellent job
of bringing new readers up to date within her opening chapters ---
and does it without impeding her new storyline. The time is April
1915, and England is heavily involved in what would come to be
known as World War I. Joseph Reavley is an Army chaplain, on the
front line in Flanders, and is heavily involved in giving such
spiritual comfort as he may to the dying and wounded among the
British troops.

A note here. Perry's descriptions of warfare are accurate and
accordingly are horrific, though not gratuitously so. One can
almost smell the smoke, see the fire, and hear the screams of the
wounded in the midst of Perry's description. That, by any
reasonable definition, is fine writing.

An arrogant, insensitive war correspondent named Eldon Prentice
interjects himself into the scene, and soon earns the animosity of
virtually every soldier he encounters. When Prentice is found dead
on the front lines, the reaction of one and all is good riddance.
It becomes clear to Reavley, however, that Prentice is not a
casualty of war but was the victim of a deliberate act of murder.
Reavley accordingly takes it upon himself to investigate the
matter, a task that is less than thankless in the wartime
environment in which he finds himself. Reavley's sister Judith,
meanwhile, is the driver for General Cullingford, commanding
officer of the troops and, interestingly enough, Prentice's uncle
by marriage. There was no love lost, however, between Cullingford
and Prentice, and Prentice was using his uncle's unexpressed
feelings for Judith as leverage for preferential treatment in the
journal pool. Judith has her own ideas as to who was behind
Prentice's murder.

It is Perry's practice in her other series to have each novel deal
with an individual mystery that is ultimately resolved within the
book, while also dealing with a much larger ongoing issue that
connects the individual volumes in serial volumes. She appears to
be continuing this practice in the Reavley novels. The Prentice
murder is ultimately solved. The mystery of the man known as The
Peacemaker, introduced in NO GRAVES AS YET, deepens within SHOULDER
THE SKY. Matthew Reavley, brother to Joseph and Judith, continues
in his role as a British intelligence officer to determine the
identity of this mysterious figure, who seeks to unite the warring
German and British nations into a common front that will then
divide the other nations of the world between them. This is also a
personal matter for Matthew, as The Peacemaker is responsible for
the murders of the Reavleys' mother and father. It appears as if
The Peacemaker is going to succeed in his reprehensible plot.
Matthew, however, finds that the odds against him are balanced
somewhat by assistance from an unexpected source.

Perry's writing has never been better than it is in SHOULDER THE
SKY. Readers hesitant to pursue one of Perry's other series due to
the size of her considerable bibliography should jump onto the
Reavley series now while it is easily manageable. Read one, and
you'll be hooked for good. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011

Shoulder the Sky
by Anne Perry

  • Publication Date: September 28, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345456548
  • ISBN-13: 9780345456540