Sunday, November 10, 2013

My review of The Cater Street Hangman

The first book in Perry’s bestselling Victorian crime series, bringing together Inspector Thomas Pitt and Charlotte Ellison
Panic and fear strike the Ellison household when one of their own falls prey to the Cater Street murderer. While Mrs. Ellison and her three daughters are out, their maid becomes the third victim of a killer who strangles young women with cheese wire, leaving their swollen-faced bodies on the dark streets of this genteel neighborhood. Inspector Pitt, assigned to the case, must break through the walls of upper-class society to get at the truth. His in-depth investigation gradually peels away the proper veneer of the elite world, exposing secrets and desires until suspicion becomes more frightening than truth. Outspoken Charlotte Ellison, struggling to remain within the confining boundaries of Victorian manners, has no trouble expressing herself to the irritating policeman. As their relationship shifts from antagonistic sparring to a romantic connection, the socially inappropriate pair must solve the mystery before the hangman strikes again.

Review: Always nice to discover a new writer. I did enjoy Anne Perry's first detective novel for Charlotte and Thomas Pitt. Perry is on sure ground with this era. Her knowledge of the mores of the times works well to reveal a family in crisis. The murder mystery seems like a subplot to the family themselves as they are rocked and fractured by what is happening very close to home. The women accept the limitations that society places on them which we today would consider frightful. They answer to the man of the house and spend their days with household duties and charity work. Although they are somewhat subdued by societal expectations, they do want something better from their relationships. The different generations are shown here with the grandmother, a homeless and sour woman shuttled from family member to family member, while attempting to forget the disappointment of her own marriage. But the men aren't completely content either. Although they are allowed much more freedom without censure, this seems to work against their own happiness while destroying the intimacy of family life. Perry shows them as rendered lonely and confused by their actions. No one character is painted as perfect. Pitt is a good character, he shows a vulnerability which contrasts him with the snobbish gentleman he must deal with, and especially as he falls in love with Charlotte. While obviously aware he is of a lower social order than she, which gives him pause, he is very much his own man. He takes every snub she deals out on the chin with a smile. Life has taught him a thing or two. He reveals a more realistic and pragmatic attitude. Charlotte isn't particularly likeable as an outspoken young woman with very definite ideas, but we see her develop here from a snobbish green girl to a compassionate woman. Very well done.

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