Death in the Devil’s Acre – Anne Perry

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I picked up my first Anne Perry novel last week after a glowing recommendation from my friend. She was referring to the Inspector Monk series and I just picked up one at random and realized the author has another series dedicated to the a husband-wife duo Thomas and Charlotte Pitt.

The premise of the novel revolves around a serial killer who goes around the derelict and poverty ridden part of the London slums called Devil’s Acre, killing and then castrating men who visit these places for their carnal pleasures. The case gains the alarmed attention of the public and the government alike when one of the murdered men turns out to be a peer of the realm. Thomas Pitt is the Inspector assigned to the case and he follows it through the grime and filth of the dangerous slums with grim determination. His wife Charlotte meanwhile, tries to assist by using the connections of her Viscountess sister Emily to try to gain insight into the threads that bind quite a few members of the elite upper classes to the  dark alleys of Devil’s Acre even though she has been warned by her husband to stay away for her own safety.

I am not quite sure how to categorize what I felt about this novel. The connections that Thomas and Charlotte make seem to be plucked straight out of thin air at times. I kept getting confused trying to figure out which clue led them to the conclusions that they reached during the course of the investigations and the the one that Thomas figured out in the end. The novel is more a commentary on the social customs and idiosyncrasies of the time than a conventional murder mystery with the following of facts and picking up of match-sticks from the scene of the crime.

Anne Perry comes across as an author who explores the darker and almost brutal side of the Victorian world. The murder is especially gory and graphic and somehow seems almost out-of-place with the simplicity of the writing. As are the affairs and the occupations of the various characters that flit across the pages.

Even as I write these words I realize what has troubled me with her work. It seems to be the fact that though written with almost the simplicity and clarity reminiscent of an Agatha Christie novel, it carries non of the humor, straight-laced characters or the neatness of the murders of her works.  Anne Perry’s work is the in-your-face kind, disturbing; with extremely blurred edges to her characters and no compromises for the delicacy that we seem to associate with Victorian novels in general.

Would I read another Anne Perry novel? As soon as I can get my hands on one. Why? Because I am already invested in the lives and future of Thomas and Charlotte Pitt even though the author doesn’t really seem to spend too much time with details eg. I didn’t know till almost the last part of the novel that they had a daughter named Jemima! She spends her time recounting the reactions of her characters to external stimuli and in the process paints a captivating picture which begs to be explored more deeply. The murders seem almost incidental to the plot.

I only hope that Thomas, Charlotte and Emily haven’t devolved into caricatures of themselves with progressive works. And I also wish Thomas had a sidekick like Watson considering that Charlotte has Emily. I only say this though I realize that Charlotte is supposed to be his sidekick/partner because in this mystery they seemed to be competing with each other instead of collaborating. Just a thought!

FYI – The author spent her teenage years in jail for being a party to the murder of her friend’s mother!!

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