Monday, May 16, 2011

Monday Book Review: TREASON AT LISSON GROVE - A Thomas and Charlotte Pitt Mystery

TREASON AT LISSON GROVE (2011) is the very latest in the amazingly prolific author Anne Perry's Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series - the first Pitt book in three years actually - the 26th (!) overall. I've been a fan of her historical mysteries (she writes several series) for years. And while I realize that getting into a series, any series, this far along can be intimidating, I'd still recommend you read a few of the previous books (in the order of their publication) before reading the very latest Pitt or William Monk book. That is, if you don't want to go all the way back to the very beginning. But is you're not intimidated at all then by all means, begin at the beginning. In my view, this is probably more important in the William Monk series now 16 books along. Monk spends the first half of his series as an amnesiac, so you can see why it might be important to go back a few books with him.

TREASON AT LISSON GROVE features one time police Inspector Thomas Pitt, now an officer with Special Branch, the British organization charged with investigating societal unrest and general skulduggery. Pitt has been directly brought in (after being kicked off the police force for doing his job too well and incurring political enemies) by Victor Narraway, head of Special Branch.

The series is set in the latter years of Victoria's reign and over the past several books, Pitt and Narraway, as well as Pitt's wife Charlotte and various other recurring characters have been involved in many intriguing cases featuring dark, murderous secrets and the efforts of those in power to circumvent the law.

Thomas Pitt is an intriguing character. He began years ago as a lowly police inspector in THE CATER STREET HANGMAN, the book in which he first met his future wife. When a sister is strangled by a serial killer, Charlotte, a well-born upper class young woman of independent spirit falls in love with Pitt and scandalizes everyone by marrying him. A decision she has never regretted.

Pitt is a gameskeeper's son who was educated by the estate's owner and thus, he is too well educated for one world and not gentleman enough for the other. Still, by hard work, integrity and gumption he rises within the police force, to a point where he becomes a danger to some powerful shadowy characters working behind the scenes.

Now because of Victor Narraway, Pitt is with Special Branch, head-quartered in Lisson Grove. As this current book begins, Pitt and a fellow officer named Gower, are on the trail of an informer with valuable information regarding a possible international plot. There is great unrest in Europe at this time and England is seen as having the only 'stable' government - it behooves socialists and anarchists working in the shadows, to foment unrest at home. Rumors and conspiracy theories are everywhere. When the informer is brutally murdered, Pitt and Gower follow the suspected killer across the channel to St. Malo on the French Coast.

In the meantime, with Pitt out of the picture, Narraway's enemies strike. He is accused of embezzling funds meant for the safe passage of an Irish informer who has since been killed. The money has shown up in one of Narraway's accounts. Disgraced, Narraway is driven from office.

Because of evidence brought to his attention by Stokes, an officer still loyal to him, Narraway believes the answer to who has engineered this plot against him lies in Ireland - a place where he once worked to foil a tragic conspiracy.. The Irish have long memories and many reasons to hate the English, so it is there that Narraway believes the man who directed the plot against him has surfaced after many years.

Trusting no one, having few friends, Narraway turns to Pitt's wife Charlotte. letting her know where he's going and what has happened. She sees the danger he's in, a danger which will affect her and Thomas directly. Once Thomas returns from assignment he may well be ousted from Special Branch, (he is seen as Narraway's man) if not worse. Narraway's enemies are Thomas's enemies. So for this reason, she insists on going to Ireland to help in any way she can. For societal sensibilities she will travel as Narraway's sister.  But added to the mix is the fact that Victor Narraway is in love with Charlotte and has been for some time.

Back in France, Pitt realizes that he is on a wild goose chase and that something bigger and more important may be happening back home. At this point he has no idea that anything specific has occurred OR that Narraway and Charlotte have departed for Ireland.

The book is divided between Narraway and Charlotte's dangerous adventure in Ireland which culminates in murder and Pitt's eventful and equally dangerous journey back to London to find Narraway gone and Special Branch in disarray. Charlotte's plans have been revealed to him by Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould, an influential family friend with many connections- she is someone who has helped them before. Charlotte had revealed her plans to Lady Vespasia before departing for Ireland. Pitt fears for Charlotte's life, but understands why she would want to help Narraway clear himself. After all, Narraway had stepped in to help Pitt when he was driven from his job.

Incredibly, within a few short, anxious days, Pitt finds himself ensconced as head of Special Branch, a job he is not really suited for but cannot turn down - moreover, a job he doesn't want.

As enemies circle, Pitt realizes that he and Narraway have been split up for a very good reason: there are traitors at Lisson Grove. Traitors working with violent insurgents to overthrow the government. He alone must find the details of the plot - where and when will they strike? How far up the chain of command does the treachery go? He also realizes that his sudden promotion is meant to make him a scapegoat if the plotters succeed.

Author Anne Perry has created in Thomas and Charlotte Pitt, a steadfast, devoted couple whose integrity and compassion are the centerpieces of this series. Over the years as they've withstood many setbacks, grown a family and worked together on cases - Charlotte having easier entry into society, often helpful to Thomas in his earlier police work, she has never once regretted marrying her policeman.

In her two main series, Perry often tackles the difficult themes of social injustice, the plight of the poor, the rigidity and hypocrisy of Victorian society, and the Irish troubles - all in 'real' time. Though rarely do these themes get in the way of the story, rather they are woven expertly throughout. Perry never forgets she's writing mysteries.

If you enjoy suspenseful historical mysteries set in the Victorian era, then Anne Perry is the writer for you. Far as I'm concerned, she has no equal.

To see an entire listing of Anne Perry's books,.please go here.


  1. I've read the first two of this series and have two more here to read. I like the way she features the plight of women - the inequality etc. A good series.

  2. Cath: Yes, Perry's books often have themes blended into the storyline. In a good way, though, rarely too heavy-handed. She certainly doesn't shy away from controversy either. Don't forget to try the William Monk series as well. :)

  3. Someone said the Monk books are even better than the Pitt ones so yes, I will definitely get to those too eventually. :-)

  4. I have only read two Anne Perry books, one a Monk, one a Pitt. Both dealt with women's issues. She does not shy away from controversy, you are right.

    I have to think about this one, having Irish heritage and feeling their pain.

  5. Cath: I agree, as good as the Pitt books are, the Monk books ARE better. The books have a darker tone and some of the earlier stories are real page-turners. Several leave you gasping.
    DEFEND AND BETRAY is one that leaps initially to my mind. DARK ASSASSIN is another - superb.

    Though in the early years of the Pitt series, there were several books which were similar in dark tone. Don't miss FARRIER'S LANE.

  6. Kathy: Try ASHWORTH HALL which is set mostly in Ireland - it's a Pitt book and if I'm remembering correctly, very intriguing and very fair.

    TREASON AT LISSON GROVE is set partially in Ireland but as in the earlier book, Perry is pretty fair about the Irish question. I mean, her books are told from the English point of view, but I don't remember anything objectionable. You might give them a try. :)

  7. Okay. I will take your suggestion. And also ask a friend who is an avid Perry fan as well. She is the person who loaned me the two I read.

  8. Kathy: You can always shut the book down and fling it across the room if you are disappointed. :) (But I don't think you will.)

  9. OK. If the library has it, I'm game. I wish I knew which topics are in which books, but perhaps I can find this at fantastic fiction.

  10. By the way, the shortlist of Dagger awards is posted at Eurocrime, interesting list.

  11. What's the worse that could happen? You don't like the book and you return it to the library. :)

  12. Right! My philosophy exactly: Get a book from the library, read what you like. Give it 50 pages -- what's considered enough to give you a good idea of the book and whether you like it or not.

    I'm reading a few things now, not thrilled with either one: Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as the saying goes.

  13. Sometimes I give it less than fifty pages, but usually I'll go at least that far. Unless I can tell right off the bat that it's not for me. It happens that way sometimes.


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