In the London of Queen Victoria, in a public hospital where "nurses" require no qualifications because all they do is the work of a drudge, a Crimean War veteran nurse is found strangled to death and stuffed into a laundry chute. Those nurses who worked under the legendary Florence Nightingale find life in their post-war homeland difficult, especially if they choose to continue nursing, because they know how to do far more than change bedding, roll bandages, and dump slop pails. They want to see medical care reformed, based on what they learned during their service under "the lady with the lamp"; and their presence makes those around them uncomfortable, doctors as well as matrons and ordinary nurses, because these are forceful women who usually have no need to earn a living. They are gentlewomen who should, according to their era's customs, confine their hospital work to that of board members and charitable contributors. Instead they insist on doing what no decent upper-class female ought, and their outspoken desire for specific reforms both disturbs and insults England's current medical establishment.
Former police detective William Monk, now a private detective, inquires into the death of Prudence Barrymore at the request of his patron, Lady Callandra Daviot. He asks another Crimean nurse, Hester Latterly, to take a position at the hospital and learn all that she can; and then he takes the resulting evidence to the police, in the person of a former colleague whose competence he has reason to distrust. After which Monk begins to think it may be a false accusation, despite that evidence. So what will he do now, with the accused already on trial?
Although I had read other Anne Perry books, this was my first William Monk installment. The amnesiac detective is that rare fictional character, a not very likable "hero" who nevertheless gains the reader's interest and holds it to the story's end. Which for me came at an unholy hour of the night - I found the book's final chapters impossible to put down. You do not need to be a mystery genre reader to appreciate Anne Perry. You only need to enjoy character driven fiction in general, and well written historical fiction in particular. I will definitely read more of the novels in this series.
--Reviewed by Nina M. Osier, author of 2005 science fiction EPPIE winner "Regs"