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RIP Anne Perry (28.10.38 - 10.4.23)

Anne Perry 2

It was with some sadness that I noted the recent passing of Anne Perry, a writer who turned her life around and became one the world’s best-loved historical mystery novelists. I feel like I’ve been reading her books for decades so thought I’d look back on some of my reading highlights from Anne Perry’s back-list.

You couldn't help learning a lot about English society, and particularly London society, as it was in the Victorian era from reading the William and Charlotte Pitt series. As you may recall William Pitt first appeared in The Cater Street Hangman. The young police inspector is called to the Ellison household to investigate the murder of a housemaid. It is here that he is drawn to Charlotte Ellison, a young society woman who is also a potential suspect. You would think their romance is doomed, but fate has other things in mind.

William and Charlotte’s connection sparks another 31 novels and characters from the series appear among the 21 Christmas novellas Anne Perry wrote over the years. These quick reads are just for thing to relax with while the turkey is cooking.

Such a lot of research went into these novels, which reveal a lot of the politics, life and customs, and the social strata of the time. They have a real Dickensian feel, and this is particularly so for the William Monk mysteries which kicked off with The Face of a Stranger.

Monk is a London detective who has suffered memory loss following a vicious attack. A new case and sudden glimpses of memory create a disturbing realisation. The series also introduces nurse Hester Latterly, an upper-class woman who had upset her family by volunteering as a nurse in the Crimea War. Through Hester the stories often reveal aspects of hospitals and medical treatments of the era. Monk is a difficult and troubled character and spars well with Hester who takes her profession seriously.

In between these novels, Anne Perry also published the Reavley series – five books beginning with No Graves as Yet, set around the time of World War I. The Reavleys are a family of siblings whose parents are killed in a suspicious motoring accident. As rumblings of war echo in the background, son Matthew worries that his role in the secret service, and the discovery of a sinister plot had sealed the fate of his father, a retired MP.

This series of five novels (published between 2003 and 2007), brings you into the battlefields of the war, as well as revealing political undercurrents and the growth of the secret service. I remember I loved these books so maybe it’s time for a reread.

In recent years Anne Perry created a further two series which were just getting into their stride. In one of these, fans will recognise Daniel Pitt as Charlotte and William Pitt’s son. He's a young lawyer in the first book, Twenty-one Days. It’s 1910, so we’ve got motorcars and the beginnings of forensic science. Daniel has 21 days to prevent his client, a political biographer, from keeping his appointment with the hangman. It’s a classically twisty Perry read.

With the Elena Standish series, we’ve moved even further forward in history to the interwar years and the rise of Adolf Hitler. The first book, Death in Focus, sees Elena, a keen photographer on holiday in Italy with her sister, when a chance encounter sends her to Berlin on a dangerous mission. Elena’s grandfather was a former head of MI6, and it seems that Elena has inherited his talents and is set for a career in the secret service.

I hope Anne Perry’s publishers have a few more manuscripts tucked away and we can enjoy more stories featuring Daniel Pitt and Elena Standish. In her long career as an author, Perry’s talents never seemed to waver, the books always well-researched and evocative of their era, the stories engrossing and full of twists. Her supporting characters are often just as well-developed as the main protagonists, and I also love the way these stories grapple with the darker side of the human psyche.

If you enjoy historical mysteries and haven’t encountered the works of Anne Perry before, you’ve got a ton of reading pleasure ahead of you. Or you might be like me, still catching up on the newer books or rereading the old ones. You might also be interested to read The Search for Anne Perry, Joanne Drayton’s highly regarded biography, published in 2012. As you might expect we have both the biography and a large number of Perry’s novels available here at the libraries, both in print and as ebooks.

Posted by JAM

26 April 2023

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