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Third in the William Monk series: _Defend and Betray_ flopped for me
Written: Nov 30, 2011 (Updated Mar 8, 2013)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:A physical, out and out battle between a governess and the family cook.
Cons:Book dwadled and yawns to the courtroom conclusion.
The Bottom Line: Only for the die-hard fans of the series, and not one that I can honestly recommend.
One of the fiction genres that I have been enjoying over the years is the historical mystery, a blend of the past and the modern. Often these are rich in details, with a heady blend of actual events, fictional characters -- and sometimes a few real ones to spice things up -- and plenty of tangled relationships and events that often require some real brain sweat to resolve. Most of the time, many of these work very well for me.
Anne Perry has been writing for years, with three series rolling on strong in historical settings. The first one is set in late Victorian England, with the sleuthing couple of Thomas and Charlotte Pitt. One of the others was a limited five volume series set during World War One. And third, the one that I am working on now is using mid-nineteenth century London as its base. The William Monk books use the twist of having William Monk as a former policeman who has suffered amnesia after a bad accident, and struggling to rebuild his life and his memories. Recurrent characters in the series include Hester Latterly, an intelligent and attractive nurse who served during the Crimean War, Oliver Rathbone, an brilliant barrister who sometimes hires Monk to work on gathering information and Lady Callandra Daviot, a friend of Hester's and aristocratic Society doyenne.
The novel starts as a friend of Hester's comes to her for help. Ellen Sobell, a widow, comes to Hester to not just assist her finding a suitable position to work in, but also help in finding a suitable lawyer to defend her sister-in-law, Alexandra Carlyon, accused of a very unusual murder. Hester, who is busy tending to the recovering -- and elderly -- Major Tiplady, guides Ellen to Rathbone, who eagerly takes on the case.
It seems that Alexandra's husband, General Carlyon, fell from an upper-story balcony and crashed onto a suit of armour, and impaled himself on the halberd, a long combination of axe and spear. But it appears that it was not just an unfortunate accident, and even worse, Alexandra has willingly confessed to the crime. It's the why of the crime, and who Alexandra is trying to protect that makes this plot work. Can Monk and Hester uncover the evidence that saves Alexandra from the hangman's noose in time?
But there are a few problems with this one. Indeed quite a few; for two thirds of the novel I had a terrible time wading through this story, with a narrative that simply drags along. There are interminable meals where converstions slow, and go over details again and again. By the fourth or fifth recitation of the details of General Carlyon's death, I was ready to fling the book to the wall and give up. It was lucky that I was reading this on my Nook, but I digress. Worst still, I started to figure out where the story was going by the midpoint. Now, I don't mind that so much, but it didn't take much cleverness to see it either, and I was proved right by the end.
The secondary characters are not that personable in this one either. Alexandra and Ellen's mother-in-law, Felicia, is a harridan that I heartily wished that someone had shoved down the stairs, and the men of the Carlyon family and those involved with them are universally weak and colourless. Another female character, Damaris, is the only lively, and independently thinking person in this family, and she's so over the top that I had a hard time taking her seriously.
The most egregious sin here is that Anne Perry is an unrelentingly grim author to wade through. There wasn't one quip, joke or bit of sarcasm in this story, which made the story very dull -- usually I can get through an average sized novel within several evenings, but this one took more than two weeks. I was bored by the end and while the final third of the novel did move briskly through the trial phase, and the underlaying causes are important still in our day and age, I didn't give a damn either. I just wanted the book to be finished, so that I could move on to the next.
However there was one scene in the book that was amusing -- an out and out battle between a household's cook and governess, which was vital to the outcome, and interesting to read. Unfortunately, this was also the only scene with any sort actual activity among the characters, something that I considered pretty weak overall.
Each of the novels relies on the previous book to give a base for the reoccurrent characters, but they are each self-contained, and do nicely as a standalone. While it does help to give a well-rounded look at the characters, there are times when there are some backtracking going on as well.
Sensitive readers should know that there are some pretty distressing elements in this one, especially the device of child abuse, and for that fact, domestic abuse as well. Women and children in the Victorian period did not have much help in fighting against tyranny by the male head of the household. A woman could only divorce her husband for extreme violence or abuse, could not legally own property, nor had the right to decide how her money was to be spent. While social pressure, at least in well-to-do families, could be brought to bear, most suffered in silence.
Overall, this one just gets three stars from me. While it did pick up at the end, it just wasn't enough in the first two-thirds of the novel to carry the reader on through. Eventually, I'll go on to read the rest of the series, I'm just hoping that the next book is much more interesting than this one was.
The William Monk Series:
The Face of a Stranger
A Dangerous Mourning
Defend and Betray -- you are here
A Sudden, Fearful Death
The Sins of the Wolf
Cain His Brother
Weighed in the Balance
The Silent Cry
A Breach of Promise
The Twisted Root
Slaves of Obsession
Funeral in Blue
Death of a Stranger
The Shifting Tide
This review is part of talyseon's It's Elementary My Dear Watson! Mystery Write-off.
Defend and Betray
1992; Ballantine Books, Random House Publishing
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