Tuesday, 14 December 1999
Anne Perry: A Sudden Fearful Death (1993)
Review number: 406
The first of Perry's William Monk detective stories to be published in the U.K., A Sudden Fearful Death does not read like the first of a series. The reader is given the impression that they should already know some of the characters, and be familiar with other events and cases. I do not know if there is a precursor to the novel, but if there is not, it is an interesting way to make the reader feel part of something ongoing.
Unfortunately, A Sudden Fearful Death is rather a weak novel, as Perry gets carried away by her mission to expose the unpleasantness of Victorian England. There is no denying that for many people, particularly women, it was a place with much suffering. But the hypocrisy of the period is what marks it out, and it is what obsesses Perry in her other series, featuring Inspector Pitt. Here, it is exposed more publicly, in a trial scene which would surely have become one of the most celebrated cases in the nineteenth century, with at least one extremely unlikely aspect to it dictated by a desire to provide a dramatic ending. (There were surely mechanisms, even then, to present new evidence which comes to light after the conclusion of the prosecution case.)
The other weakness of the novel is that several characters behave inconsistently, particularly the man accused of the murder and his family. Things become known which a much greater effort would have been made to hush up, where Pitt should have a much harder time breaking through the veils of secrecy to find the clues he needs to work out the solution. Most disappointing.