It's true that this latest William Monk mystery novel is quite different from the previous ones in that instead of looking at one particular mystery plot from several different angles (one subplot that would've involved Monk's efforts, while another concentrated on Hester's and yet a third involved barrister Oliver Rathbone's contribution to the case), "Dark Assassin" is more of a "one-tone" mystery novel -- one sees things almost exclusively from Monk's point-of-view.
William Monk has a new job as a police inspector with the Thames River Police. It is position that he has accepted because of the job security that it offers and because the inspector that he's replacing, the deceased Inspector Durban, had recommended him for the job ("The Shifting Tide"). Monk, however, is finding it heavy going trying to fill the popular Durban's shoes, especially since he feels the guilt of having survived while Durban died, and because he feels as if the other policeman of the Thames River Police not only hold him accountable for having survived, but also question his competence. One evening, while on patrol, Monk and his team witness the questionable plunge onto the Thames by a young couple. Both die from the impact. However it remains unclear as to whether or not it was a suicide pact between the two, if one of them was trying to push the other off the bridge and was pulled along by the struggle, or if one was trying to end his/her life and the other was pulled along. Monk soon discovers that the dead woman was Mary Havilland, that her own father had committed suicide a few months before -- something that quite devastated Mary -- and that the man who feel off the bridge with her was her ex-fiance, Toby Argyll. Moved by the tragic deaths and unsure as to what happened, Monk resolves to discover what really happened on the bridge and to prevent Mary from having the fate of being declared a suicide. Strangely enough, Monk receives help from an unexpected quarter -- from his old foe, Superintendent Runcorn, who had investigated Mary's father death, and who is having second thoughts about Havilland's death. Will Monk and Runcorn discover anything that will help them prove that Mary had not committed suicide out of despair? Or will all this cooperation be in vain?
When I said that it was more of a "one-tone" mystery novel I meant that absent was the many tones and point-of-view that Anne Perry usually imbues her novels with, where the reader would be privy to how some of the characters viewed things (wrong-headed though they may be) and the pain and anguish that comes with the realisation as to where these views have led them or have wrought. "Dark Assassin" concentrated more on the subplot involving the investigation into the Havillands' activities (father and daughter) and Monk's new duties. And unfortunately, this time around Hester's contributions were confined mainly to her making a few social rounds as she tried to get the chief suspect's wife to testify against him. I rather missed the old Hester full of vim and vigour, ready to go out on a limb in order to help someone. On the other hand, this was a truly wonderfully absorbing read -- not very suspenseful one, it is true, but absolutely riveting nevertheless. And while I rather missed the skillful manner in which Ms Perry usually brought her multifaceted characters to life, the dark, urgent atmosphere of this novel -- those vividly rendered scenes in the nightmarish tunnels below the city where is everything is dank and damp for example-- more than made up for it. It is true that the pacing was slightly more sedate and a tad less breathless; but this was more because the novel moved between the Havilland case and Monk's other duties on the river than anything else. All in all though, "Dark Assassin" was an excellent read, and one that I enjoyed completely in spite of the fact that it was a little less compelling and darkly intriguing than previous installments. Only one thing truly confused me (and SPOILER ALERT here) I rather thought that during the Victorian period, if you were arrested on a criminal charge, you were remanded, which made the plot twist at the end a little problematical.