- Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
Special Branch Commander Thomas Pitt, in the interests of justice, has been known to bend the rules almost to the breaking point, with the help of his wife, Charlotte, and his former superior Lord Victor Narraway and a woman who knows where all the bodies are buried, Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould. It takes the supreme efforts of all four and the forces at their command to solve the mysteries of a series of sexual assaults on women in “Midnight at Marble Arch” (Ballantine Books, 368 pages, $27.00).
It’s the summer of 1896 and the events in South Africa, especially the failed Jameson Raid on the mineral rich Boer settlements are the talk of the town. The Jameson Raid was a botched raid on Paul Kruger’s Transvaal Republic carried out by British colonial adventurer Leander Starr Jameson and his Rhodesian and Bechuanaland policemen over the New Year weekend of 1895–96. (Wikipedia entry on the raid: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jameson_Raid). Both the British and the Boers have had long established settlements in the southern tip of Africa and the British want to take over the Boer ones, which led to the Boer War a few years later.
Even more relevant to London society is the ugly side of Victorian Britain — a decadent world of sexual harassment where wastrels of the monied class take advantage of girls and women — in a society where women are all too often blamed for the attacks against them. This sounds familiar with daily news reports of sexual assaults in the various branches of the U.S. armed forces and elsewhere. Some things never change.
Although it’s outside the job description of Special Branch head Thomas Pitt — whose main task is fighting Irish terrorism and foreign spying — the death of 16-year-old Angeles Castelbranco, daughter of the Portuguese ambassador, prompts Pitt to assemble an ad hoc unit consisting of Charlotte, Victor Narraway and Vespasia to discover who’s behind the rapes, including another young girl and Catherine Quixwood, wife of wealthy merchant banker Rawdon Quixwood. When word gets out of Pitt’s probe, the his boss, the Home Secretary, questions him, but decides to let Pitt proceed.
Both Angeles Castelbranco and Catherine Quixwood have had their reputations destroyed, but the sense of justice inherent in Pitt and his wife make them determined to find the culprit or culprits. The personal element in the mix is Jemima, the 14-year-old daughter of Thomas and Charlotte. They want to protect a girl who’s growing up too fast from the violence that lies simmering beneath the surface of “polite” society.
There’s riveting courtroom action as a man whom Pitt and Narraway believe to be innocent is on trial for the rape of Catherine Quixwood. There’s even the 1896 equivalent of a car chase at the end of the book where action becomes violent.
In “MIdnight at Marble Arch” Anne Perry delivers her most personal Catherine and Thomas Pitt novel, with all the characters exquisitely drawn as one has come to expect in a Perry novel. Victor Narraway, often the victim of his own errors as well as events beyond his control, comes across as a very sympathetic character in the novel — and Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould is as irrepressible as ever.
About the Author
Anne Perry is the bestselling author of two acclaimed series set in Victorian England: the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt novels, including “Treason at Lisson Grove” and “Buckingham Palace Gardens”, and the William Monk novels, including “Acceptable Loss” and “Execution Dock” (both of which I’ve read and reviewed). She is also the author of a series of five World War I novels, as well as nine holiday novels, including “A Christmas Homecoming”, and a historical novel, “The Sheen on the Silk”, set in the Ottoman Empire and reviewed on this site by the present reviewer. Anne Perry lives in Scotland. Her website:www.AnnePerry.net.