Nationality: British. Born: London, 28 October 1938. Education: Privately educated. Career: Has had a variety of jobs, including airline stewardess, 1962-64; assistant buyer, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1964-66; property underwriter, Muldoon and Adams, Los Angeles. Since 1972 full-time writer. Lived in California, 1967-72. Agent: Meg Davis, MBA Literary Agency Ltd., 45 Fitzroy Street, London W1P 5HR, England. Address: 1 Seafield, Portmabomack, Rossshire IY20 IYB, Scotland.
Novels (series: Charlotte and Thomas Pitt in all books except as indicated)
The Cater Street Hangman. New York, St. Martin's Press andLondon, Hale, 1979.
Callander Square. New York, St. Martin's Press, and London, Hale, 1980.
Paragon Walk. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1981.
Resurrection Row. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1981.
Rutland Place. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1983.
Bluegate Fields. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1984; London, Souvenir Press, 1992.
Death in the Devil's Acre. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1985;London, Souvenir Press, 1991.
Cardington Crescent. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1987; London, Souvenir Press, 1990.
Silence in Hanover Close. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1988;London, Souvenir Press, 1989.
Bethlehem Road. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1990; London, Souvenir Press, 1991.
Face of a Stranger (Monk William). New York, Fawcett, 1990;London, Headline, 1993.
A Dangerous Mourning (Monk William). New York, Fawcett, 1991;London, Headline, 1994.
Highgate Rise. New York, Fawcett, 1991; London, Souvenir Press, 1992.
Belgrave Square. New York, Fawcett, 1992; London, Souvenir Press, 1993.
Defend and Betray (Monk William). New York, Fawcett, and London, Headline, 1992.
Farriers' Lane. New York, Fawcett, 1993; London, Collins Crime, 1994.
A Sudden, Fearful Death (Monk William). New York, Fawcett, andLondon, Headline, 1993.
The Hyde Park Headsman. New York, Fawcett, 1994.
The Sins of the Wolf (Monk William). New York, Fawcett, andLondon, Headline, 1994.
Traitor's Gate. New York, Fawcett, 1995.
Cain His Brother. New York, Fawcett Columbine, 1995.
Pentecost Alley. New York, Fawcett Columbine, 1996.
Weighed in the Balance. New York, Fawcett Columbine, 1996.
Ashworth Hall. New York, Fawcett Columbine, 1997.
The Silent Cry. New York, Fawcett Columbine, 1997.
Brunswick Gardens. New York, Fawcett Columbine, 1998.
A Breach of Promise. New York, Fawcett Columbine, 1998.
The Twisted Root. New York, Fawcett Columbine, 1999.
Half Moon Street. New York, Ballantine Books, 2000.
Uncollected Short Story
"Digby's First Case," in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine (New York), February 1988.*
Mugar Memorial Library, Boston University.
Anne Perry comments:
(2000) I am an amateur historian in the sense that I write about other times purely because I enjoy it. It seems to me to be the best of all possible worlds to create characters and set them to play out their passions against whatever backdrop you like! The differences between their time and ours is a challenge which is fun to explore, and the exercise of transporting a drama from the present into another age brings into sharp relief what is transient and what is permanent, part of the core of human nature. The writing of each story then becomes a journey of discovery as to what is lasting, which values and passions are part of our own condition and are always worth addressing.
Mysteries have always fascinated a wide audience because they satisfy so much in us. They begin with the chaos of things having gone tragically wrong, work through finding facts about events and thus about people, emotions and finally piecing together a truth. Masks are stripped away—uniquely satisfying! Secrets are exposed, good and bad, funny and tragic. In the end we understand what happened and why, we see people and possibly society in sharper focus. In the best stories we see something of ourselves as well. And finally from chaos we untangle order and restore some kind of balance and justice, not always legal, but with a moral satisfaction.* * *
Beginning with The Cater Street Hangman in 1978, Anne Perry has supplied readers of detective novels with an annual volume in either her Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series or her more recent William Monk-Hester Latterley mysteries. Because of her love of history, her novels are set in the mid-and late nineteenth century—Monk and Latterley in the 1850s, the Pitts in the 1880s and early 1890s—and she does her best to reconstruct the sights, smells, menus, costumes, and concerns of each.
Concurrently with the self-contained mystery of each novel is an ongoing development of the marriage of Charlotte Ellison, an outspoken young woman who "lowers" herself by marrying a police inspector, Thomas Pitt. They meet when her sister is murdered in the first novel, marry, and have two children in subsequent books. Pitt himself is falsely charged with murder in Silence in Hanover Close, enabling the reader to look inside the brutalities of a Victorian prison to which his superior officer, the power-server, Ballaret, is anxious to condemn him.
Charlotte, although she becomes proficient in housewifery, assists in her husband's investigations, at times without his knowledge. Aided by her own social savoir faire and by elegant borrowed clothes, Charlotte meets and probes the interests of upper-middle and upper-class suspects, accessories, and innocents. Pitt, a gamekeeper's son, whose education and accent are those of a gentleman, deals with more unsavory criminal classes—brothel-keepers, money-lenders, informers—often in dirty disguises. In more recent novels, Ballaret is replaced by the gentlemanly Drummond and, eventually, by Pitt himself, who prefers street work but is now able to give Charlotte something more than a working-class home.
These events, moving through some fifteen narratives of violent death, have accrued other ongoing personages: Charlotte's sister, Lady Emily, for example, whose first husband is murdered and who eventually marries Jack Radley, a successful candidate for Parliament. Emily, too, uses her social position to gather information for Pitt, especially when, bored with the seclusion demanded by widow-hood, she impersonates a maid in the York household, which also allows Perry to show us the heavy demands made upon servants. Lady Vespasia, Emily's aunt by marriage, adds her aged beauty, superb gowns, and advanced social convictions to each case. Charlotte's father dies, but her mother finally loves and marries an actor; an elderly humor character, Charlotte's grandmother is repellently venomous in her brief appearances.
The mysteries these characters help to solve are identified by place-names—for example, Rutland Place, Farrier's Lane, Paragon Walk, Traitor's Gate, The Hyde Park Headsman —in which a group of well-born neighbors often supply a tightly knit community, secretly riddled with loves and hatreds. Few of Perry's murderers come from the working classes, and their crimes are frequently bizarre in conception, shocking in solution, or both. A mother kills two newborn children of her venereal-diseased, blackmailing husband; a man is crucified; a judge is poisoned by an opium-laden cigar at the theater; two homosexuals are found dead and naked together, a murder and suicide; a young girl has taken part in rites of black magic and is branded with a "devil's mark"; another young girl kills her brother after he persuades her to abort their incestuously conceived child; and so on. Moreover, in two novels innocent men are hanged.
Several recent works have introduced the mysterious and seemingly omnipresent Inner Circle, ostensibly a secret society for doing good but really an intricate series of groups devoted to power, including the power of death. Pitt and Jack refuse to join but the Inner Circle's influence is difficult to combat. The other concern of Perry's latest novels is "the African question," which involves the foreign office and the British-German race to colonize Africa.
By now Perry's fiction has settled into a pattern, although it still has surprises. Perhaps that is why she began the Monk-Latterley series in 1990 with a brilliantly conceived first volume, The Face of aStranger. It opens with Monk's amnesia from a cab accident, requiring him to discover who and what he is while trying to solve a tenuously leftover murder. In subsequent works, he still adds flashes of memory. He is thrown into the abrasive company of a former Crimean nurse, Hester Latterley, too anxious to initiate Florence Nightingale's reforms in English hospitals to be long employable in one. They are joined by Lady Callandra Daviot, a younger, untidy variant of Aunt Vespasia, and later by the admirable barrister, Oliver Rathbone. Crimes include child abuse and abortion. Like Pitt, Monk has an intolerable superior officer, Runcorn, who drives him into resigning from the force and setting up as a private detective.
Like the Pitt series, these novels have been praised for their fullness of Victorian detail, and their dialogue is generally more realistic than the stilted conversations of the drawing rooms that Charlotte visits. Perhaps Perry should read more Victorian fiction to sharpen her ear for the way people talked. At present this is the chief weakness of her determined historicity.
Jane W. Stedman
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