Anne Perry's mystery stories are notable for their immense wealth of detail about Victorian England. Her investigative team is Charlotte Pitt, a young woman from a family of means, and her husband, Inspector Thomas Pitt. Because their marriage stretches across the British class gap, the two of them often combine to provide discoveries and insights that one or the other might have missed on their own. And, of course, the detailing of the stratified society that was London at that time is an anglophile's delight.
The mystery begins innocently enough. Charlotte's mother Caroline has lost a locket with an embarrassing enclosure, and she has asked Charlotte to look into it for her. As they visit the other residents of Rutland Place they discover that many other items have also been stolen, and that many secrets lurk beneath the refined surface. Suddenly the game deepens and Wilhelmina Spencer-Brown, a resident with a habit of prying, dies of poison. The police, in the person of Thomas Pitt investigate, but the walls of the upper class are difficult hurdles to negotiate.
Charlotte, anxious to protect her mother from further embarrassment, joins in the investigation. Between her and Thomas the clues gradually accumulate, but with excruciating slowness. Dishonesty, flirtation, and things far worse gradually come to the surface until a second murder attempt triggers the final tragedy. The crime and its bitter aftermath stand revealed, and we are reminded that often things are not what they seem.
I like Perry's stories for their careful attention to detail and method. They are just complicated enough, and hard work is an important part of reaching the solution. My complaint is that the books are often too dry, even when there is pressing emotional content. To a degree this reflects the restraint of the times Perry writes about. Rutland Place proceeds ever slowly, with no whirls of dramatic action to light a fire under it. Yet it manages to affect the reader with it's chilling vision of the dark corners of 'bright' society.