Perry, Anne - 'Midnight at Marble Arch'
This is the twenty-eighth novel in the Thomas Pitt series. It is 1896 and Pitt, now the Head of London's Special Branch, is attending a lavish reception at the Spanish Embassy with his wife Charlotte and although he is beginning to understand the power he now commands, he is still ill at ease at the glittering events he and Charlotte must attend. During the lavish party a policeman interrupts Pitt's conversation with investor Rawdon Quixwood, to break the terrible news that Quixwood's wife, Catherine, has been viciously assaulted at their home, and left for dead. Worse still, it appears that the assailant was someone she had trusted, as she had opened the door to the attacker herself.
Lord Victor Narraway, Pitt's predecessor as head of Special Branch and his friend, is also in attendance and agrees to accompany Rawdon Quixwood back to his home. The body of Catherine Quixwood is found battered and bruised and after examination by a police surgeon, it is apparent that she was brutally raped and then apparently took her own life by swallowing a glass of wine mixed with a large dose of opium. It seems that all the servants had been told they should retire for the night, but a manservant had gone for a long walk before retiring and he had discovered the body of the deceased on his return.
Victor Narraway is shocked by the details of the crime and offers his services to the investigating detective. Pitt is kept informed. Whilst at the same reception at the Spanish Embassy Charlotte Pitt witnesses Angeles Castelbranco, a sixteen-year-old Portuguese ambassador's daughter, flinch in fear at the teasing of some young men. A few days later, she flees from the same group and, in her terror, falls from a window - what could have caused her to take that fatal step? Charlotte talks to the mother and is horrified to learn that one of the young men had raped her. Pitt and his friend Victor Narraway agree to investigate these two deaths, which they feel are possibly linked. The story moves on and the detective leading the investigation, makes a surprise arrest of a suspect who is charged and convicted of the crime and sentenced to death. Pitt and Narraway, much to their chagrin must find the real culprits before an innocent man is hanged which leads to a nail-biting ending.
Rape is a dreadful crime which is often unreported by victims because they feel ashamed of the circumstances and fear the publicity that a trial of the assailant will bring against them. If it is bad now, how much worse it must have been during the circumstances of the nineteenth century? On a personal note I served on a jury at the Old Bailey, many years ago on a multi-rape case and the poor victim who had been raped by three rapists was intrusively questioned by barristers about her previous sexual history which was completely irrelevant, but just used to undermine her credibility. I felt the author dealt very sensitively with all the issues that are raised in rape cases and whilst I have read only three of her previous Thomas Pitt books I look forward to reading many more.
Anne Perry's first published book, THE CATER STREET HANGMAN came out to much acclaim in 1979. Since then she has written a further twenty-seven Thomas Pitt books. As well, this very prolific author has written a further nineteen books in her series about detective William Monk. Additionally she has written five books in her World War 1 series, over ten Christmas novellas, and another nine stand alone books! So there is much available to read and what surprises me is the quality of her historical research is undiminished regardless of how much she writes. I look forward to reading much more of her work. Extremely, well recommended.
Terry Halligan, England