Death on Blackheath (Charlotte and Thomas Pitt, Book #29)
by Anne Perry
Release Date: March 25th, 2014
2014 Ballantine Books
Hardcover Edition; 320 Pages
Genre: Fiction / Historical / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher
3 / 5 Stars
As commander of the
powerful Special Branch, Thomas Pitt has the job of keeping Britain safe
from spies and traitors. So there’s no obvious reason why he is
suddenly ordered to investigate two minor incidents: the blood, hair,
and shards of glass discovered outside the home of naval weapons expert
Dudley Kynaston, and the simultaneous disappearance of Mrs. Kynaston’s
beautiful lady’s maid.
But weeks later, when the mutilated body
of an unidentified young woman is found near Kynaston’s home, Pitt
realizes that this is no ordinary police investigation. Far from it. Is
Kynaston—one of Britain’s most valuable scientists—leading a double
life? Is Pitt saddled with a conspiracy so devilishly clever that it
will ruin him?
Death on Blackheath is the latest in the long-running series featuring Thomas and Charlotte Pitt. I have been of Anne Perry for a very long time now, and have read every single book that she has written. The Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series and the William Monk series feature some of my favourite books and I have enjoyed immersing myself in the time periods that she writes with such flair. And while I definitely enjoyed this latest offering featuring Charlotte and Thomas, and was very interested in the issues that developed throughout the novel, it is not my favourite one of the series as I found the mystery portion to be lacking in development and a bit boring.
As always, Ms. Perry seems to understand the world in which Charlotte and Thomas live and her research comes through very well in the triumphs and frustrations of her characters. This has always been one of the things that has drawn me to these novels over and over again; Ms. Perry is able to highlight many of the issues of the Victorian Era so well and things haven't always gone well for the various characters over the years. Lately, she has been focusing on the women and their frustrations to the limitations imposed on them; in this one we see a bored and frustrated Emily trying to be more and do more than just be an ornament on her husband's arm, we learn more about how frustrated even Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould has been over the years through different discussions, and even Charlotte is getting bored as she can't help Thomas with his 'secret' cases any more. And what happens to a woman whose beauty is beginning to fade in society's eyes and is looking to be a more meaningful contributor? And what happens to a woman who is searching for her identity? All of these questions and more were discussed and tossed about and I found them fascinating, especially as no real answers were forthcoming. What I found particularly interesting was Lady Vespasia's discussion on owning real-estate (even though I already know about it), but it was her take on the matter I found fascinating; it is not too often we see her frustrated at society and its limitations as with her great wealth and influence she has had it better than most women. The discussions over women and how they can contribute to society, despite the limitations, was definitely a highlight for me. Even Thomas had a contribution to the discussion as he often found himself reminiscing over his daughter and how she would fit into a society that doesn't really appreciate women the same way as men, and how he could help her grow into a confident woman, with more options available to her.
So, where did I have difficulty with this novel? The mystery, of course. While I thoroughly enjoyed the interactions between the characters, and the difficulties each character was experiencing in their personal and professional lives, this is a mystery novel, and this is where it fell flat for me. To be thoroughly honest, I actually thought the premise was a bit absurd, and how it would involve Pitt, as head of Special Branch, I didn't really buy it. It just felt like the author was asking too much of her authors to forgive her for involving Pitt in the way that she did, and swallow up the reasons as nonsensical. Not me. What I did find interesting is the political convolutions and games that are being played out on the big boys' floor; in particular, how Pitt was being given information on a need to know basis and how frustrating this would be for someone in charge of defence of one's country. We are at that point in time when the whole Arms Race is happening, leading to World War I in roughly twenty years, and there was a lot of stuff happening around the world, and you would think that your head of Special Branch would be let in on a few things. I get that some things should not be revealed to the public at that time due to panic, but I thought it was just a bit too much in this novel. The mystery was not such a great mystery in my eyes, although if you are not a history afficionado, and don't know anything about the arms race, and about the political situation in the United Kingdom during this time period, you might miss it.
Death on Blackheath is the latest entry in the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series. While not my favourite of the series, there are some interesting social elements to it, as there are to any of Ms. Perry's novels. Although I did enjoy the interactions between the various recurring characters and their problems, I wasn't overly keen on the mystery and Pitt's involvement with the issue, especially in the beginning. It's only inevitable that characters change and develop, so I am curious as to where and what Ms. Perry intends to do next with this series, especially as the ending was a bit different than usual, so I will more than likely pick up the next entry in this series. Will we see more international involvement and bigger things? I certainly hope so.