Belgrave Square, by Anne Perry

Belgrave Square is a Victorian mystery featuring London Police Inspector Thomas Pitt and his wife, Charlotte.

The story is rich and complex. What appears to be an investigation into the death of the usurer and blackmailer William Weems rapidly grows to involve the cover-up of a decades-old suicide and reveal the corrosive power of a secret society of successful men that has betrayed its mission of philanthropy for one in which members protect other members’ opportunities for personal profit at all costs. While doing that, the society also places members who refuse to take on these obligations in jeopardy of professional or social ruin, arrest, or worse.

One of the reasons I so admire Perry is her ability to see all sides of an event, an issue, the reasons for an action, and to see the effects these may have on her characters’ personalities. And her ability to lay in description without disturbing the story’s pacing is wonderful.

While Thomas Pitt peels back the layers of clues left at the murder site, and his wife Charlotte, raised by her socialite great aunt, Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould, investigates those possible suspects who belong to the upper class through a series of social gatherings, Perry puts the levels of Victorian society on display: the dire poor, the working poor, the struggling middle class, and the levels of Victorian society. We see the crowded, filthy back alleys of Clerkenwell, the sumptuous gowns and equaly sumptuous boards of the lords and ladies of the upper classes. We hear the music of orchestra, the street sounds of boys hawking newspapers, the plodding hooves of working horses or clattering hooves racing in the streets. The scents of the floral displays at parties, along with the visions of brilliant summer days, a loose button falling off Pitt’s coat, Charlotte removing pots from the hob, these all evoke such strong images of the era.

The cast of possible murderers includes some of those working poor, and three highly-regarded men, and though Lord Sholto Byam is not one of them, it’s he who sets the investigation in motion by contacting an old friend and high-ranking police official, Micah Drummond. It seems that Byam has heard of the murder and fears he may have been set up to take the fall by the real murderer. Why? Because of a decades-old letter written by the suicidal wife of Byam’s old and dear friend, Lord Frederick Anstiss.

While usually I have figured out ‘who done it’ a third or half way through a novel, this one had me guessing until the end, and even when, in the last few pages, Perry led me by the hand to the who and why, I was still shocked by the final scene which explained the overriding motive for the blackmail behind the murder.

A very boisterous two huzzahs! for Belgrave Square.

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