Thomas Pitt prefers the grim routine of murder investigations to the riskier probing of Victorian governmental intrigues. Yet Anne Perry's Southampton Row
again finds him displaced from his police command, this time to foil the political ambitions of a ruthless republican.
Charles Voisey, leader of a powerful secret society known as the Inner Circle, was defeated by Pitt when he tried (in The Whitechapel Conspiracy) to abolish the British monarchy. Only months later, though, he's back on top, running for a seat in Parliament. Under the auspices of the newly created Special Branch, Pitt is charged with learning whether Voisey has any "unguarded vulnerabilities." The odds against Pitt succeeding are high; Voisey may be "shallow, self-important [and] condescending," but he impresses voters as more charismatic and less controversial than his opponent, Aubrey Serracold, who's also hobbled by his connection to the recent slaying of a popular spiritualist. While Pitt's wife, Charlotte, and their family are safely out of London on vacation, Pitt, aided by the gruff but dogged Inspector Samuel Tellman, his politically astute sister-in law, and Charlotte's resourceful great-aunt Vespasia, seeks to solve the medium's murder before it can derail Aubrey Serracold's campaign.
Perry expertly portrays the volatile British political climate of the 1890s, and by making Pitt and Tellman rivals in their investigation, she further illuminates both men's characters. However, Southampton Row reduces the usually intrepid Charlotte to a hand-wringing irrelevance, and the novel feels too much like an intermediate and inconclusive chapter in a longer story arc. Like Holmes and Moriarty, Thomas Pitt and Charles Voisey appear destined to grapple once more. --J. Kingston Pierce
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From Publishers Weekly
HNewcomers to Perry's series about Victorian police officer Thomas Pitt might be baffled by all the backstory from 2001's The Whitechapel Conspiracy in this 22nd entry, but loyal fans should hit the ground reading. Bounced from his beloved job as superintendent at the Bow Street cop shop in the political backlash of the plot against Queen Victoria that he and his aristocratic wife, Charlotte, uncovered in that last book, Pitt not only has to work for the sneaky Victor Narraway of Special Branch but must also give up a much-deserved vacation with his family to look into the murder of a society spiritualist in London's Southampton Row. It seems that Charles Voisey, head of a secret society called the Inner Circle and the man whom the Pitts stopped from coming this close to turning England into a republic (with himself as president), is now running for Parliament as a Tory against a promising Liberal candidate, Aubrey Serracold. Voisey shouldn't stand a chance unless Serracold's wife, one of the murdered medium's clients, really did knock her off. Since Charlotte spends virtually all of the book on Dartmoor, her place in the investigation is ably filled by her sister, Emily, married to another up-and-coming Liberal. As ever, excellent craftsmanship sets this series in the front rank of historical mysteries. (Mar. 1)Forecast: A 15-city author tour, national print and radio advertising as well as a sample chapter in the mass market edition of The Whitechapel Conspiracy (Jan.) should help ensure another run up bestseller lists.
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