Monday, January 13, 2014

Execution Dock - Anne Perry

   2009; 311 pages. New Author? : No.  Genre : Historical Crime  Fiction.  Overall Rating :8*/10.

    Justice.  It can be a little “gray” at times.  For instance, everyone agrees that Jericho Phillips is a monster of a human being, catering to the pedophilic and pornographic tastes of some powerful clients.  So when Commander of the River Police William Monk finally catches him and runs him in for the murder of young boy, does he deserve a fair trial, or should he just be strung up peremptorily?

    Surprisingly, Monk and the topnotch lawyer Sir Oliver Rathbone have differing views on this.  But when Rathbone is hired to defend Jericho, Monk isn’t worried.  Surely there are no holes in his investigation, are there?  And even if there are holes, surely the jury won’t find Jericho innocent and send him back on the streets to molest more boys, would they?

What’s To Like...
     Execution Dock has an unusual structure for Anne Perry, who swaps in her usual whodunit format for a probing look at what constitutes justice in 1864 London.  She also examines hero-worship, in this case, Monk’s obsession with clearing his (recently deceased) predecessor’s only open case – the murder of the boy Fig, by (presumably) Jericho Phillips.  But the late Commander Durban had secrets of his own, which might come to light if Monk insists on continuing the investigation.

    The book has a very James Bond-ish start – a mad chase up and down the river and docks of the Thames trying to capture Phillips.  Things settle down after that, but there’s a nice balance of History and Mystery to keep you entertained.  And there’s a nice human interest story as Monk and his wife take in a young waif, Scuff, off the streets.  Methinks there’s an adoption on the horizon.

    The theme of the book – child pornography – will be off-putting to some readers, but Anne Perry handles the subject deftly and with only a minimum of lurid sensationalism.  The book closes with a short, mock interview of Monk by the author, which I found to be amusing.

    As he left his emotions were tangled.  He walked warily along the narrow street, keeping to the middle, away from the alley entrances and sunken doorways.
    What was the difference between one blackmail and another?  Was it of kind, or only of degree?  Did the purpose justify it?
    He did not even have to think about that.  If he could save any child from Phillips, he would, without a thought for the morality of his actions. But did that make him a good policeman or not?  He felt uncomfortable, unhappy, uncertain in his judgment.  (pg. 177)

    “At dinner we will all sit where we are directed, according to rank, and I have had occasion to sit opposite Mr. Ballinger, and listen to him speak.”
    It was an unknown world to him.  “Listen ter ‘im speak?” he asked.
    “It is not appropriate for ladies to speak too much at the table,” she explained.  “They should listen, respond appropriately, and ask after interests, welfare, and so on.  If a gentleman wishes to talk, and usually they do, you listen as if fascinated, and never ask questions to which you suspect he does not know the answer.  He will almost certainly not listen to you, but he will certainly look at you closely, if you are young and pretty.”  (pg. 283)

 “No man of honor does only what is comfortable  to him.”  (pg.  69)
        The ending, like the beginning, is action-packed, and the investigation builds up logically to it.  It felt a bit “rushed” to me, but it does tie up the main issue – that of Jericho Phillips - satisfactorily.  There are some loose ends left over, but it is my understanding that Execution Dock and the next book in the William Monk series, Acceptable Loss, form a sort of mini-duology within the larger series.  We shall see; the latter is on my TBR shelf.

    I enjoy Anne Perry books as much for historical setting (Victorian London), as for the crime-solving itself.  And when she deals with issues of the day – justice, the poor, pornography, women’s rights -  that’s just an added delight.

    8 Stars.  Another solid effort from Ms. Perry.

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