Top critical review
Considerably below her usual standard
on June 3, 2001
The plot outline is this: A well-respected army general is murdered during a dinner party at the home of a friend. Soon his wife confesses to the crime, giving jealousy as her motive. Edith, the younger sister of the deceased general, is skeptical of the confession, and approaches her friend Hester for some help. Hester, in turn, enlists the famed attorney Oliver Rathbone and former Inspector William Monk to work on the case.
The first 250 pages are so boring and so empty that one wonders why Perry wrote the book at all. All three of the above-mentioned investigators go out to gather information and interview the witnesses and acquaintances of the principal parties. They find absolutely nothing. It soon becomes clear that the wife is lying about her motive, but everyone is mystified as to what the real motive is. So for 250 pages we get almost nothing except conversations among the three people, exchanging no information because there is no information to exchange, and becoming increasingly pessimistic about their chances to save the wife from being hanged.
A modern reader, on the other hand, has no trouble figuring out the wife's motive long before the people in the book do. So that element of suspense is missing. The only open question in the reader's mind is exactly how are the characters in the book going to find out the motive.
Not only are the first 250 pages excruciatingly boring, but also the book is poorly edited. There are several threads in the story which are confusing, and several times people do things, or omit doing things, for which the motivation is either nonexistent or poorly explained.
One of the subplots is Monk's emotional longing to reconstruct a case which this one reminds him of, but which he can't remember because of a head injury which impaired his memory. That previous case might have been in one of the prior Monk novels that I haven't read, but the entire subplot is just an annoyance and seems out of place in this novel.
So what's good about this novel? The last 100 pages. Once we get to the courtroom, Perry's writing suddenly becomes far more powerful and surehanded. The drama builds, and even though the reader knows all the facts by now, it is highly uncertain how the whole thing will play out during the trial. Rathbone (and therefore Perry) does a masterful job of sequencing the witnesses, the questions, and the testimony. The final ending is moving and satisfying.
Is the truly fine ending worth wading through the 250 pages of dross that precede it? Probably not. This is my fourth Anne Perry novel, and I know she can do much better than this. Read the others.