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.