First Sentence: “It’s A bad one, sir.”
Comm. William Monk is called to the gruesome murder scene of a Hungarian warehouse owner who has been impaled with a bayonet-fixed rifle, his body surrounded by blood-dipped candles. To assist his work with the Hungarian émigrés, Monk turns to a local bi-lingual pharmacist. Young Scuff, an orphan taken in by the Monk’s, is studying to be a doctor. A patient, who is English but knows Hungarian, comes in who knew Hester during the Crimea War. With more bodies found, fear and accusations grow.
Perry always creates a strong sense of place—“…the Pool of London was already busy. Huge cranes lifted loads of bales from ships’ holds and swung them ponderously over to the docks. The water was congested with boats at anchor, waiting their turn; barges loading; ferries going back and forth from one side of the river to the other.”
While it may seem shocking to us now, one must remember that our opioids of today were the morphine and laudanum of the period and were commonly used. What is hard is to read about some of the medical procedures of the time. On the other hand, it is nice to be reminded of the tremendous contribution Florence Nightingale made to medicine.
Perry excels at taking current issues and reminding us that plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose (the more things change, the more they stay the same). In this instance, the issue is bigotry and the fear of those who are different from ourselves—“Some animals will kick to death the ones that are different,” he said very quietly. “a different color, a slightly different shape. Slower, perhaps. There is something primal in us that fears anything unlike. … I would like to think we are better than the animals, but perhaps some of us are not.”—and the tendency for those who’ve come from somewhere else to establish communities—“There was a natural closeness they felt to those who shared their roots and memories and, above all, who understood the complicated nature of a hope for a new life in a new country.”
A secondary element to the story is PTSD, although it wasn’t known as that at the time. Perry doesn’t deal with it in an abstract way but delves into what those who suffer are subjected to such as flashbacks and nightmares.
With all the drama of the killings and the medical issues, there is a lovely balance of the relationships; Monk’s with his second, Hooper—“Monk had seen it in extraordinary loyalty. When everyone else had considered Monk guilty of error, and worse, Hooper had risked his own life to save him, not to mention his career to defend him.”; the Monk’s with Scruff, and certainly Monk with Hester—“The only thing Monk could think about was hot, fresh tea. Hester had no need to ask. “Cold beef and bubble and squeak for dinner?” she asked. “And I’ve got apple pie.” It was exactly what he wanted, especially the pie.”
It is the strength of the characters that brings everything together, and there is a very strong cast. Many of the characters are recurring and well known to those who follow the series. However, it is also very nice that she brought two wonderful characters from a recent Christmas novella forward into this book.
“An Echo of Murder” is a very well done story that addresses important issues, is filled with strong characters, fascinating details, and a good twist at the end.
AN ECHO OF MURDER (Hist Mys-Thomas/Hester Monk-London-Victorian) – VG+
Perry, Anne – 23rd in seriesBallantine Books-Sept 2017