Callander Square by Anne Perry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
When the skeletons of two infants are found buried in fashionable Callander Square, it's up to three people to negotiate the labyrinth of social mores, scandal and deceit: Inspector Pitt, his intrepid wife Charlotte, and her redoubtable sister Emily ... who arguably is the real sleuth through much of the first half of the book.
Overall, this is an intriguing and often disturbing study of Victorian high society, but it suffers from the (also Victorian) attributes of being somewhat dry and reserved. There's not as much detection as you would expect, but plenty of mystery in unexpected places. For me, the real puzzle of the book - and the one left to the reader to solve - is the interactions between man and woman, social pretense and reality.
I had some trouble with this book, especially early on. The way the characters were introduced made it difficult for me to tell them apart, and I feel that even near the end of the book, there were a few I had to stop and consciously match up. There's also a distinct lack of tension to start - you don't get the clear sense that the babes were murdered, and so it's more a matter of truth-seeking than anything else. (This element extends a long way into the book, so it's arguable that the mystery isn't that important to the story until much later.)
Also, the book quickly branched into secondary points of view, including suspects ... so it sometimes became difficult to track what each character knew. On the other hand, this element provided most of the tension and the fascinating through-lines of Victorian life. The battle of the sexes has rarely been illustrated with more incisiveness - and viciousness, at times.
Final complaint: I reached the end, and I felt cheated by the conclusion. I felt as if pieces of information had been withheld, or the reader would simply assume something in its place. There were reasons to suspect the killer, but the motive was simply concealed until the very last. Not quite fair play, says I.
But it's quite fitting that the book doesn't end there, and the final conclusion says much about the courage and bravery of Victorian women. Perry truly gets inside the mind of the period. I'm up for another Pitt novel - the enjoyment goes beyond the mystery.
View all my reviews >>