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by Anne Perry
Ballantine, April 2013
352 pages
ISBN: 0345536665

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The opening scene of Anne Perry's latest Charlotte and Thomas Pitt novel, MIDNIGHT AT MARBLE ARCH, develops in the heart of Victorian upper class society. A beautifully orchestrated party is unfolding, with everyone elegantly dressed and acting in the proper manner. But then there is a disruption caused by the rude and seemingly unprovoked behavior of Angeles, daughter of the Portuguese ambassador, who repulses the outwardly friendly approach of a young man, Neville Forsbrook. We see this scene through the observant and sympathetic eyes of Charlotte Pitt. Something is seriously amiss, but soon a greater evil unfolds. The police summon Rawdon Quixwood because his wife has been murdered. Pitt goes with him and is confronted by a scene of pure horror. The woman, Catherine Quixwood, has been brutally raped and Pitt must try and protect the husband from this sight.

Rape and protecting people from knowing about it is a huge focus here. People of this period can hardly say the word, let alone contemplate trying to find the perpetrator and bring him to justice. Women need to be protected from the aspersions that would be cast on their characters if it were known they had been the victim of rape. A father would never allow his daughter to be subjected to this public acknowledgment of lost innocence. She would be considered in some way complicit and it would ruin her in society as well as her ruin her chances of a good marriage.

A tight web of fear surrounds many characters who may be protecting themselves and their loved ones by harboring secrets. Other people die under violent circumstances and more light is thrown on the Angeles' behavior. Questions arise about whether Catherine knew her rapist and invited him in. She had spent much time with a young man named Alban Hythe who falls under suspicion, yet he seems to be the wrong man and she seems to have spoken to him only about some financial issues.

Thomas Pitt, now head of Special Branch, and his predecessor, Victor Narraway, are convinced that a violent, murdering rapist is on the loose and must be stopped. With the help of Charlotte and the beautiful Vespasia, they must do all they can to discover the identity of the rapist and to get the victims to come forward. An innocent man may be hanged if they do not succeed. The trial of Hythe is riveting, but there is another trial of importance in the book as well. It concerns an unauthorized raid in South Africa, and many wealthy people stand to lose large fortunes. But what is the connection between these circumstances and the other events of the book?

Anne Perry knows how to combine complicated murders with civilization's evils. When these evils resonate not only within the Victorian time period she is writing about but with today's headlines as well, then she is at her best. It would be hard to read this book without thinking of the current cases of rape - in the military, with high school students' partying and in cities around the world. Sadly, the defense that the woman wanted it and is somehow to blame still surfaces. In MIDNIGHT AT MARBLE ARCH, Perry veils her observations in an historical context, but she is a writer whose works have a contemporary resonance.

Anne Corey is a writer, poet, teacher and botanical artist in New York's Hudson Valley.

Reviewed by Anne Corey, April 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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