Thursday, 14 January 1999

Anne Perry: Callander Square (1980)

Edition: Fawcett, 1986
Review number: 186

Like The Hangman of Cater Street, the first of Anne Perry's Inspector Pitt novels, Callander Square is a tale of the worst of Victorian society's vice and hypocrisy. Other than Charlotte, Pitt's wife, there is scarcely a member of the upper classes without a disreputable secret; Perry's is surely an exaggerated version of Victorian London. (By their very nature, it is impossible to accurately know how many people have disreputable secrets.) Some fairly typical Victorian vices, such as child prostitution, are either still considered too unpleasant to talk about by Perry, or they just haven't yet proved relevant to one of her plots.

The plot concerns the police investigation into the bodies of two babies, discovered in the wealthy neighbourhood of Callander Square when some work is being done in the gardens. They are thought to be the results of a servant girl's indiscretions, so everyone in the square expects the investigation purely to be a formality. Inspector Pitt is in charge of the case, and when Charlotte discovers what he is investigating, her sympathy both for the babies and their mother leads her to take a hand. She encourages her fashionable sister Emily to start visiting in the Square to find out from gossip what's going on, and even manages to get herself a job as secretary to General Ballantyne, who lives in the Square and is writing a history of his family's involvement in the army since the days of Marlborough. Before long, the disreputable secrets of those who dwell in the Square begin to come out, and it becomes clear that there's more to the mystery than first appeared.

It's clear that Anne Perry has found a successful formula in The Cater Street Hangman, and that she has stuck to it in Callander Square. The portrayal of upper-class Victorian society as totally hypocritical may be exaggerated, but it provides many opportunities for a detective writer, through the existence of lots of disreputable secrets which the reader has to work out whether they are connected to the matter under investigation or not.

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