Saturday, April 28, 2012

Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books: Anne Perry's The Face of a Stranger

"With insight, compassion, and a portraitist’s genius, Perry illuminates the shifting tide of emotions encompassing Queen Victoria’s London and the people who live there—aristocrats, brothel owners, thieves, Dickensian ruffians, and their evil keepers. She takes us through dangerous backstreets where the poor eke out their humble livings, and into the mansions of the rich, safe and secure in their privileged lives. Or so they believe..."

Not long ago, I realized I was up-to-date with Elizabeth George's mysteries (and not only that, I was having some reservations about her books), when I started casting about for a new series to get involved in.

I love Victorian mysteries, so I decided to check out Anne Perry's Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series.  I read and enjoyed a couple of them.

But then I read the first in her William Monk series, and I was hooked.

William Monk is the kind of man Heathcliff would be if Heathcliff wasn't violent and cruel. :)  He's dark, brooding, attractive and mysterious.  But he also has a heart, and I fell in love with him immediately.

The author's troubling history

It wasn't long before I found out that Anne Perry is a convicted murderer herself.  It's complicated, but she was very young when it happened, she has served her time and apparently deeply regrets the whole thing.

Some people have said they wouldn't read Perry's books because of that.  But I actually believe in redemption, second chances, and that people can change.

And darn it, she writes a great book!

If you decided to get into the series, I definitely recommend you start at the beginning, with "The Face of a Stranger."  There's a definite arc to Monk's story, and each book adds to its trajectory.

The story

I found the book riveting from page one.  William Monk wakes up in a hospital with no memory of who is or how he got there.

He has been in a serious carriage accident that has robbed him of his memory.  Eventually he learns that he is
a London police detective...and a very good one, but also a very disliked one.  Apparently the William he used to be was arrogant and downright mean.

He can't tell the police--especially his supervisor, Superintendent Runcorn, who obviously dislikes him and probably for good reason--that he has no memory.  He has to go back to work, because it's the only way he has of earning a living.

Immediately he's thrust into a high-profile murder investigation.  Fascinatingly, it seems his detecting skills haven't suffered too much from the accident--those seem to return instintively.

But obviously he's hampered by the fact that there are people everywhere who know him (and most can't stand him), while he doesn't know them at all.

(By the way, snatches of his memory do return throughout the series, but I'm well into it, and he still doesn't remember everything.)

Monk is a fascinating character, and as we can see his basic goodness and compassion, we like him and are rooting for him to succeed.

Hester Latterly

This book also introduces a character who becomes extremely important to the series--Hester Latterly, a nurse who worked with Florence Nightingale in the Crimean War and who is on sort of a mission to reform the appalling Victorian hospitals and antiquated ideas about nursing and health care.

Outspoken, independent and strong, Hester is the opposite of the kind of woman Monk is usually attracted to, and yet he is drawn to her.

Thanks to the character of Hester, I've learned so many fascinating things about the history of nursing.  In fact, each Monk book has significantly enriched my knowledge about a remarkable time in history.

I'm really enjoying these books, and I dread when I'm finally up to date on them.  They've pretty much comprised my leisure reading for the past couple of months.

I highly recommend them to anyone who loves mysteries and enjoys books set in the Victorian era.

I'm linking up today with Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books!



Megan said...

I haven't heard of this book Cindy but you've made it sound so wonderful that I now want to read it! Great review and I'm adding it to my wish list :)

Megan @ Storybook Love Affair

Yvette said...

You're in for a treat, Cindy. I've read all the William Monk books and all the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt books by Anne Perry and I recommend them all the time.

In fact I have two William Monk books on my 101 Favorite Books list. :)

I knew about Perry's past but like you I believe in redemption. Plus, she's a helluva writer.

Corey P. said...

Fascinating. This looks like a very interesting read - thanks for the review! :)

Rachel said...

This sounds great!! I'm gonna have to look for it next time I'm at Half Price Books (I go there at least once a week- I'm sort of addicted!) :)

Awesome blog, thanks for sharing it with me! I plan to look at some past post for other recommended books!


Cecelia Dowdy said...

About the author's history, the made a movie about it entitled Heavenly Creatures.

It's a haunting movie, very disturbing. I recall seeing it a number of years ago.


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