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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Perry's Newest Satisfies Almost As Much As It Unsettles

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Acceptable Loss, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier books in the William Monk series.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

I normally write my own plot summaries, but sometimes I don't feel like reinventing the wheel—especially when a book's jacket copy does it appropriate justice.  So, I'm going to go ahead and cheat on this one (any typos/mistakes in the following are my own):

"Give her a good murder and a shameful social evil," The New York Times Book Review once declared, "and Anne Perry can write a Victorian mystery that would make Dickens's eyes pop."  And Perry's new William and Hester Monk story, a mesmerizing masterpiece of innocence and evil on London's docks, outshines all her previous novels in this successful and beloved series.

When the body of a small-time crook named Micky Parfitt washes up on the tide, no one grieves; far from it.  But William Monk, commander of the River Police, is puzzled by the expensive silk cravat used to strangle Parfitt.  How did this elegant scarf—whose owner was obviously a man of substance—end up imbedded in the neck of a wharf rat who so richly deserved his sordid end?

Dockside informers lead Monk to what may be a partial answer—a floating palace of corruption on the Thames managed by Parfitt, where a captive band of half-starved boys is forced to perform vile acts for men willing to pay a high price for midnight pleasures.  Althugh Monk and his fearless wife, Hester, would prefer to pin a medal on Parfitt's killer, duty leads them in another direction—to an unresolved crime from the past, to blackmail and more murder, and to a deadly confrontation with some of the empire's most respected men.

To a superlative degree, Acceptable Loss provides colorful characters, a memorable portrait of waterfront life, and a story that achieves its most thrilling moments in a transfixed London courtroom, where Monk faces his old friend Oliver Rathbone in a trial of nearly unbearable tension—in sum, every delectable drop of the rich pleasure that readers expect from an Anne Perry novel."
I know what you're going to say and, for the record, I absolutely agree: the subject of this novel is repugnant.  So much so that, at times, it made me feel physically ill, even though Perry steers away from describing all the lurid details of the so-called "pleasure" boats.  Still, she gives enough of it and implies enough of it for readers to get the whole, sickening picture.  For that reason, Acceptable Loss is not an easy book to read.  There were several times I wanted to put it down for good, but I didn't for two reasons:  because it was nominated for a Whitney Award and because, in spite of its distressing topic, it's an enthralling read.  Why?  Well, the paragraphs above sum it up nicely—Perry creates deep, interesting characters; vivid, carefully-drawn settings; and a plot twists that are unexpected, but masterfully executed (the Epilogue of this book is an especially brilliant example).  So, while Acceptable Loss is disturbing in the extreme, it's also a rich, compelling story that satisfies almost as much as it unsettles.  I'm not going to say I loved it, but it definitely pulled me in and kept me turning pages because I had to know how it ended.  And, let me say, it ended well, my friends.  Very, very well.

(Readalikes:  Other books in the William Monk series; it also reminded me a little bit of Y.S. Lee's The Agency series [A Spy in the House; The Body at the Tower; and The Traitor in the Tunnel])          

Grade:  B

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for violence, language (no F-bombs), and very mature content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

1 comment:

  1. With a premise like that I'm glad to hear it ends well. Sheesh! This one doesn't sound like something I'd like. Hard subject matter.


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