Sunday, January 28, 2018

Seven Dials - Anne Perry

   2003; 330 pages.  Book #23 (out of 34) in the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series.  New Author? : No.  Murder-Mystery, Historical Fiction.  Overall Rating : 8½*/10.

    It was a simple case to investigate, really.  A minor British diplomat was shot, at 3:00 AM, in a backyard at Eden Lodge.  The gun of the woman living there was found beside the body.  She fully admits it belongs to her.  Someone phoned for the constables, and upon investigating, they found that someone had placed the corpse in a wheelbarrow.

   The constables caught the woman and an associate in the act of trying to move the wheelbarrow from the backyard to nearby Hyde Park.  Both freely admit they were endeavoring to dispose of the body.  The associate freely admits he’s a lover of the woman.  But he’s also an important cabinet minister, who’s involvement in the crime could become a major scandal for the beleaguered government.

    Pitt’s instructions are not to determine who killed the poor diplomat.  That seems obvious enough.  Instead, his orders are to try to find a way to keep the cabinet minister from becoming a national embarrassment.  That’s going to be quite the challenge for Pitt, since the minister fully admits his help in attempting to dispose of the body.  In fact, he’s willing to go to the gallows with his mistress.

    There’s just one hitch.  The woman isn’t talking, and the minister insists, despite what all the evidence indicates, that neither he nor the woman did the shooting.  If that’s true, then who did?  And who phoned the constables?

What’s To Like...
    Seven Dials is from Anne Perry’s Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series, so while her husband is trying to keep his job and the government afloat, Charlotte becomes involved in a more mundane mystery – the brother of a friend of the Pitts’ maid Gracie has disappeared without a trace, and Charlotte takes it upon herself to find out why.  The book switches back and forth between the two storylines, which I didn't find confusing in the least.

    The books in this series are also Historical Fiction, set in Victorian London in the 1880-1890’s.  Anne Perry always does a great job of making the settings feel “real”, and here she broadens her scope to include Alexandria, Egypt back then, which was a huge treat.  I especially liked that Egypt was portrayed in a realistic, positive light – not the stereotypical “heathen Arabs” viewpoint.  The book’s title refers to a rough part of London where some of the events take place.  Seven Dials is not a section of town you want to find yourself in if you have any choice.

    The action starts right away; Pitt is summoned to the police station in the middle of the night and assigned the case.  There are a slew of characters to meet and greet, and that’s okay since a sufficient number of suspects are needed to make both Thomas’s and Charlotte’s investigations interesting.  I liked Pitts’ boss – Inspector Victor Narraway – for his “grayness” of character.  And dear old Aunt Vespasia was as incisive as ever.

    The ending of Seven Dials is superb.  As usual, everything comes to a head at a court trial for the two accused murderers.  Twists and revelations abound in the court proceedings, and the ending is both surprising and logical, and didn’t feel a bit “forced” to me.

    Seven Dials is a standalone novel, as well as part of a series.  I’m not reading these books in order, nor those of Anne Perry’s other murder-mystery series, featuring William Monk, and I don’t feel like I’m missing much by not doing so.

Kewlest New Word. . .
Bubble and squeak (phrase, Britishism) : cooked cabbage with cooked potatoes and often meat.
Others : Winkle (n.); Circumlocutory (adj., and a great word); Dissimulation (n.); Mews (n., Britishism);  Impecunious (adj).

    “If you wish for my assistance you had better tell me what it is you require to know.  I am not acquainted with the unfortunate young Egyptian woman who appears to have shot Lieutenant Lovat.  It seems an uncivilized and inefficient way to discard an unwanted lover.  A firm rebuff is usually adequate, but if not, there are still less hysterical ways of achieving the same end.  A clever woman can organize her lovers to dispose of each other, without breaking the law.”  (pg. 44)

    “Ferdinand Garrick is what some people refer to as a ‘muscular Christian,’ my dear,” she continued.  “He eats healthily, exercises too much, enjoys being too cold, and makes everyone else in his establishment equally uncomfortable.  He denies himself and everybody else, imagines himself closer to God for it.  Like castor oil, he may on some occasion be right, but he is extremely difficult to like.”  (pg. 169)

No one wishes for impecunious relatives, however distant, still less for ones with distressing taste in clothes.  (pg. 166 )
    The quibbles are minor.  Most of the servants in the book speak in Cockney, which I don't doubt is historically accurate.  It was fun to "hear" the accent at first, but after a while it got tedious for me, especially since it seemed like the conversations were worded to emphasize the differences.

    The storyline also dragged a bit in the first half, as Charlotte and Thomas both seemed to be making little progress beyond meeting lots of new suspects.  But things pick up nicely in mid-book, and let’s face it, lots of investigations in real life experience phases of small progress despite great effort.

    Finally, the two seemingly disparate storylines eventually cross paths,.  The odds of this happening in real life are of course slim, but here it makes for a better, more coherent tale, so we’ll look the other way.

    8½ Stars.  Don’t be dissuaded by my quibbling.  I thoroughly enjoyed Seven Dials, both as a murder-mystery and a piece of historical fiction.  Amazon quite often discounts Anne Perry books, and my local Goodwill stores seem to always have a couple at next to nothing in cost.  So do yourself a literary favor, and go pick up one of her books today.

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