Anne Perry, The Face of a Stranger (1990)

Anne Perry’s Victorian mysteries are a surefire staple for historical entertainment. It’s light fare, but the research and setting make it all very worthwhile. I had tried several Thomas and Charlotte Pitt’s books, but this is the first time I tried a mystery with Inspector William Monk.

The twist of the story is that the narrator, William Monk, wakes up on page 1 in a hospital, with no memory at all of who he is and how he came there. The only information he gathers is that he is a policeman. For fear of being left without a job by his calculating and supercilious superior , he has to hide his condition and go back early to his investigations, leading to a parallel plot between the murder of a young gentleman back from the Crimean war and a research of who Monk is and how he got injured.

I don’t quite know how believable this amnesia is, but I found it a quite effective and rather innovative way to introduce us to a new character who isn’t quite friendly and straightforward. As Monk gets back to his apartment early in the book (on the basis of a note in his pocket), he looks for clues about his past life and character from his belongings discovers himself as an ambitious, driven but uncaring man. I liked that part very much.

On the whole, as in most Anne Perry’s mysteries, the fun lies more in the plot than in the secondary characters who are a bit two-dimensional. But being the first book in a series, there’s a lot of ground information handed out to us about  the duo of recurring characters: Monk of course and a young woman, Hester Latterly, who has joined Nightingale’s nursing teams in the Crimean war. Both characters are difficult and conflicted, which bear promises for future adventures (although it is a bit too obvious that these two will eventually fall for each other).

As in the Pitt series, research is impeccable and veers towards Dickens world. It certainly gives a darker feeling, but sometimes the amount of awareness for Victorian inequalities and injustice by the main characters borders on anachronism. I’ll return to the series though!


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