REVIEWED BY DAVID M. KINCHEN
Astute readers of the William Monk detective novels by Anne Perry can always relate the events of the books set in the 1860s with today’s headlines. “Blood on the Water” (Ballantine Books, 320 pages, $26.00), the twentieth novel in the series, is no exception.
It’s 1865 in London. While on patrol on the River Thames, Commander William Monk of the River Police witnesses an explosion on board the pleasure boat Princess Mary. The explosion is so severe that Monk himself is blown into the water.
Some 200 people die immediately or shortly thereafter in an explosion that, as the investigation later discovers, uses the new Swedish invention dynamite. Monk begins his investigation — only to find shortly thereafter that the case has been taken over by Sir John Lydiate, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, no friend of Monk.
The Home Office, in charge of the police, apparently believes that because of the important people who died in the explosion, Lydiate is better suited to handle the case, even though the logical investigative body is the River Police.
An Egyptian man, Habib Beshara, is quickly arrested, tried and sentenced to die. Monk tries to convince Lydiate and the Home Office that Beshara, who may have been involved in the plot, couldn’t possibly have acted alone.
Could the crime be connected with the soon-to-be opened Suez Canal, which would impact the British shipping industry and its ports in South Africa, among other places? Or was it an act of revenge for the continuing British colonial activities in Egypt, the Sudan and other places? (Historical note: Construction delays and diseases resulted in the 102 mile long canal — connecting the Mediterranean with the Red Sea — opening in November 1869, four years behind schedule).
Ably assisted his wife, Hester, Scuff, their more or less adopted street lad, and his old friend, disbarred lawyer Sir Oliver Rathbone, Monk vows to find answers — but instead finds himself treading the dangerous waters of international intrigue, his questions politely — and not so politely — turned aside by a formidable array of the powerful and privileged.
Monk is convinced that he’s on the trail of the perpetrators, when the small ferry boat he’s on is rammed and Monk and the ferryman are almost killed. In an about-face, the case reverts to the force that should have handled the investigation in the first place, the Thames River Police.
All the Monk novels feature outstanding character delineation and twists and turns. “Blood on the Water” is no exception. It’s an outstanding historical novel, as are all of Perry’s works.
Photo copyright by Diane Hinds
About the author
Anne Perry, born in 1938, is the bestselling author of two acclaimed series set in Victorian England: the William Monk novels, including Blind Justice and A Sunless Sea, the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt novels, including Death on Blackheath and Midnight at Marble Arch. She is also the author of a series of five World War I novels, as well as eleven holiday novels, most recently A New York Christmas, and a historical novel, The Sheen on the Silk, set in the Ottoman Empire. Anne Perry lives in Scotland and Los Angeles. Her website: http://www.anneperry.co.uk