Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Inspector Monk series

by Anne Perry
Read in January/February 2011

No offense to Detective Adrian Monk, but this inspector is the creation of Anne Perry, mystery writer. He's a detective in London of the late 1850s.

I've read three of these (well, four actually) based on the recommendation of a friend.
I read one of the later ones a few years ago and enjoyed it very much. It's taken this long for me to get back to the beginning. I suppose that with Perry's later Monk books, one could read them out of sequence. If you want to read the early stories, however, you should definitely start with book 1: The Face of a Stranger.

This book begins with Inspector William Monk waking up in a hosptial after a terrible carriage accident. He doesn't remember anything about his life. He retains most of his abilities, but has to learn, little by little, his name, house, occupation, friends and family. The accident hasn't only altered his memory, but his personality as well. And this is a good thing, apparently. The pre-accident Monk seemed to be a very unpleasant person. He was a social climber, pretending to be of a higher class than his position with the police department actually placed him. He was hard on his co-workers and, especially, his subordinates. He was impatient and blunt. But deep down he had a strong sense of justice and fairness. This is the side of him that comes back after his accident. Monk is disturbed by the way people react to him and he's appalled by what he finds out about himself. It's no wonder he seems to have no friends and no close family. He was a driven, single-minded man with no time for other people.
But everything is different now. The Face of a Stranger is a mystery novel. There's a crime that must be solved, but the book is really about Monk's investigation into his life.
One of the characters involved in the external mystery is Hester Lattery. By chance, she is able to help Monk and his partner Sergeant Evan solve the crime.

The second book, A Dangerous Morning, is really Hester's book. More of the plot is devoted to her "detective" work. She becomes a private nurse for the mistress of a rich family mourning the loss of one of the family. Hester uses her inside position to find information vital to solving the crime. This isn't just another volume in the Inspector Monk Series. It is really a continuation of the first book. The criminal convicted in The Face of a Stranger is on trial in this book and we meet another regular character, the lawyer (barrister) Oliver Rathbone.

Third, Defend and Betray has been my favorite of these three. Monk is still struggling with past memories, but he seems to be settling into his new life. Hester is still unofficially solving mysteries and is warming up to the chilly Monk. Oliver Rathbone plays a very important part in tying up the plot. Book four, A Sudden Fearful Death, will continue the story of these characters, Monk, Hester and Rathbone. In fact, the last sentence of Defend and Betray leaves us with a bit of a cliff hanger.

These are pretty good mysteries, but they are really fun Victorian historical fiction. I love learning all about the society, including it's class system and the role of women. I say it's fun, but it isn't pleasant knowing how terrible people who weren't of the right station (or gender) were treated. I plan to read more of these after taking a break for something more modern.

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