Friday, March 27, 2015

Disappointing New Release from Anne Perry

2 of 5 stars
My reading history with Anne Perry is limited to the first five William Monk books and the first book in the Charlotte & Thomas Pitt series, so I had no experience with her recent output prior to reading this novel. I love the books I've read previously. Unfortunately, this novel does not meet my expectations from her.

The premise is an interesting one. A prominent young British woman starts life anew in Spain after rejecting an advantageous marriage proposal. After marrying a Spaniard, she experiences a religious transformation and picks up a group of followers. A decade later, 'Saint Sofia' has come to London under serious threat, ostensibly to bring her new religion to the British masses.

Now a Commander in Special Branch, Thomas Pitt is charged with protecting Sofia while she's in London. When she and two of her followers disappear, Pitt is left to unravel a mystery with potential personal, religious, political, and financial implications.

What Perry does well in this novel:

Setting - The threatening nature of Sofia's new religion cannot be understood without a fair knowledge of the world politics at the end of the 19th Century. Perry weaves enough facts into the story that even without a good grasp of world politics, one can understand the danger Sofia was in from those who presume any threat to the establishment is a step towards anarchy.

-  I was standing in my kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil when I read the murder scene. It was so startling, so violent, that like the fictional Pitt I stumbled back a step. I thought myself incapable of such a strong reaction to fictional violence, but the image stayed with me throughout the remainder of the story.

Backstory - Although this is the 30th novel in the series, I didn't feel that I was missing important backstory about the main characters in the book. Enough information is given to make everything pertinent to the story clear, without bringing up so much history that it detracted from the plot.

What Perry usually does well, but doesn't do well in this novel:

Characterization - I found the characters all incredibly one dimensional. Charlotte could have been entirely absent from this story and the only impact would have been on its length. Sofia was such a cipher that I truly didn't care if she was found dead or alive. I expect so much more from Perry. 

Dialogue -  A considerable part of this story is about religion and faith, meaning that there are a lot of discussions about it. Unfortunately, this more accurately means that the same discussion is held over and over. Specific phrases are used repeatedly, much to the annoyance of the reader.

Pacing - The long-winded and repetitive discussions about faith between one-dimensional characters falls flat. It drags. Much longer, in-depth discussions are tolerable or even enjoyable when the reader has a connection to the characters. I believe this book attempted that and missed.

- Pitt doesn't take his first real step towards unraveling this mystery until approximately halfway through the book. He still doesn't have it at 99%. It was frustrating to read, and entirely unbelievable. Although I did skip 28 books, I am certain that Pitt is a competent investigator or a man of his social standing would not have attained his position at Special Branch. So why can he not solve this simple crime? Why is he so slow to act?

As a lover of historical mysteries, specifically the Victorian Era, I have certain expectations of the genre. This novel does not meet that standard, and I cannot recommend it. Very disappointing.

Thank you NetGalley and Random House/Ballantine for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.