The Beginning of a Binge-worthy Victorian-Era Murder Mystery Series

I am almost embarrassed to admit that, after having worked at the library for over 10 years, I only recently picked up an Anne Perry novel. It isn’t that I wasn’t aware of her existence… her books take up 2 rows on our shelves. It is just that I am generally not interested in murder mysteries, and especially ones that are part of a long series. Having said that, I saw that a friend had an ‘Anne Perry’ book in her bag and so I asked her about it. Her rave review was the inspiration I needed to delve into the first book in the 24-book William Monk series, The Face of a Stranger.

Being a lover of historical fiction, I was instantly drawn into the Victorian-era setting. What piqued my interest even more was the fact that the main character, a police detective named William Monk, was suffering from amnesia as the result of a serious accident he had been in weeks earlier. Having awakened without memory of his life prior to the accident, he was compelled by his irascible and power hungry boss to solve the murder of a member of one of London’s finest families. Working without the safety net of a memory bank, Monk is forced to find his way through the criminal justice system in a society where the elite are untouchable. Monk is compelled to draw on the assistance of one of Florence Nightingale’s nurses, Hester Latterly, who has just returned to England from the frontlines of the Crimean War. Her independence, quick wit, and argumentative nature do nothing to endear her to him (in a society where proper women are coached from a young age to demure to men), and yet he recognizes her high degree of intelligence and reluctantly seeks out her opinions and assistance.

Perry portrays the horrid social inequalities between the aristocracy and the rest of society both from a micro and macro level – the former being the workings inside a wealthy household and the latter on the streets of London. This is real life Downton Abbey but without the made-for-TV glossing. We observe the dangerous influence the church has on the belief systems of the time that manifest in the way women and the poor are regarded. To say that my blood was boiling at the injustices Perry portrays is an understatement. 

Anne Perry has her own real life murder mystery history. Born Juliet Marion Hulme, the 15-year-old, along with her best friend Pauline Parker, conspired to murder Pauline’s mother Honorah Rieper. “As they were too young to be considered for the death penalty under New Zealand law at the time, they were convicted and sentenced to be “detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure.” In practice they were detained at the discretion of the Minister of Justice. They were released separately five years later.” It is ironic that a convicted murderer should become an acclaimed writer of murder mystery novels. 

I have since finished Book 2 in the series, A Dangerous Mourning, where we find the lives of Monk and Latterly taking sharp turns that will alter their modus operandi significantly. We are also introduced to a lawyer named Rathbone who will become part of the crime-solving trio.

An easy-to-read yet provocatively engaging series!!