Sunday, August 28, 2011
August 27, 2011
This is the second book in the Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series. It's kind of odd, but T & C don't figure very prominently in this book. Most of the plot revolves around the residents of the houses in Callender Square.
The book opens with two workmen digging in the park that sits in the middle of Callender Square in order to plant a new tree. They discover the bodies of two babies - one buried six months earlier and the other about two years earlier. Thomas Pitt is assigned the case and questions the servants and residents of each house.
Two years have passed since the first Pitt book, The Cater Street Hangman and Charlotte and Thomas are married and expecting their first child. Charlotte's sister, Emily, has married Lord George Ashworth and has jumped right into high society life. But she's bored. When she hears of the case of the two dead babies, Emily decides to find out all she can. After all, it would be much easier for her to learn secrets through gossip than it is for Pitt to learn the truth through official questioning. Charlotte becomes involved when Emily suggests that she temporarily help General Balantyne with clerical work for a military history of his family.
Callender Square isn't so much about a detective solving a mystery as it is about the manners and morals of high society. I think I said that about the last book, The Cater Street Hangman. But it is more true of this book. The narrator is omniscient. In other words, we don't follow the plot from the point of view of just one or two characters. Instead, we are sometimes with Emily, sometimes with Charlotte. Other times we are with one of the murder suspects.
The hypocrisy and double standards that were so prevalent in Victorian society are both interesting and maddening to read about. A man may have an affair, even with a servant, and it is ignored. It's looked down upon, but everyone does it - a don't ask, don't tell kind of thing. The man's wife may even know about the affair, but she usually will accept it because the alternative would be worse. The affair may be common knowledge, but if it is made public the man will be embarrased and shamed and his place may suffer in society. The servant woman would be dismissed "without a character" (references) and would probably have no alternative but to become a prostitute. The wife would suffer embarrassment and loss of status as well. She wouldn't divorce her husband because she would leave the marriage with no money or property. Even if she came to the marriage with money, she leaves it with none because marriage transfers her assets to the husband. Besides that, the chances of her finding another husband is nearly impossible. Who would want to marry her?
It's in this atmosphere that Thomas, Charlotte and Emily try to find out who buried the two babies.
I enjoyed this book a lot. Thomas is quite a different character from Monk, the detective in Anne Perry's other series. Thomas is rumpled and less reserved. He doesn't care what others think of him and is very happy not fitting into society, so he is more able to speak his mind to the upper class people. Charlotte, like Hester, is "not beautiful" but is charming enough that men admire her. She is strong willed and doesn't like to follow convention, although she isn't as unconventional as Hester.
On to the next book: Paragon Walk.