Library Loot: the Anne Perry novels

Library LootMy friends know that I’m a crime novel “tragic”. Once I find an author I like reading and whose plots I find interesting and believable, I will read everything they write, and am most miffed if they stop writing or have the temerity to die, leaving me with no upcoming novels.

Imagine my surprise then, on a recent marauding of my favourite lending library, to discover a new author. Actually she’s not a new author as she has many books to her credit, it’s just that somehow she’d passed me by previously.

So like a glutton at a buffet I’ve been devouring book after book by her, either from the library or on Kindle. Luckily also my Brisbane friend had a collection on her shelves when I visited recently so I powered through as many as I could.

Anne Perry writes mainly four series of novels, all so far with a crime theme, or at least an element thereof. Three are situated in the Victorian era and with an interest in history and family history I’ve found this particularly interesting. Her words have really brought home just how horrendous and difficult were the lives of London’s poor in those days. It reminds me of a book I read by Jack London called People of the Abyss.

Not all of her plots are believable, and as with the TV series, Midsomer Murders, I do sometimes wonder how one family (even with a policeman included) can get itself into so much bother. Still I find it all too easy to jump on the magic carpet and suspend belief for a few hours.

P1190494Each of her series has key protagonists and in each case strong women play pivotal roles.

The Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series

Thomas Pitt is a detective with the Police and later Special Branch. His wife Charlotte, bred to Society, has taken a significant step downwards socially to marry him. This is believable because of her strong character and forthright views, so when she involves herself in some (many!) of his cases it’s sort of credible. Charlotte, along with sister Emily and great aunt-in-law Vespasia, become Pitt’s eyes and ears in a social strata he is not familiar with.

I do find it somewhat incredible that he would share the full details of his cases with Charlotte and that rather than the events is what stretches my belief the most. The lack of general confidentiality pushes the boundaries but doesn’t stop my engagement with the stories. Occasionally the plots get somewhat confusing but as yet this hasn’t spoiled my enjoyment of the books.

The William Monk series

In her other series about William Monk, a former policeman and private investigator, now member of London’s Water Police, he is also assisted by his wife Hester who runs a charity clinic for prostitutes. This series is darker with more harsh realities unrelieved by excursions into London Society and in many ways I enjoy this series more for this very reason.

World War I series

There are also five books set in World War I, with members of the Reavley family as the main characters. I think the author manages to reveal the sheer harshness of life in the trenches and the mental and physical dangers the men faced.  A thread between the books is a story of treason and an alternate approach to the resolution of the conflict but one which leaves the ordinary man with no choices.  She also manages to make it very clear how the war would impact life in England afterwards. All of these books have been very interesting and I found it easy to care about the characters.

Christmas novels

Anne Perry also has a series of Christmas novels and as yet I’ve only read one of them.  It too has a crime theme but of a lighter note.

In my view the author’s strengths are her characterisations and her ability to help us really understand or know the Victorian era, as well as WWI. Very occasionally there are lapses where she “tells” rather than “shows”, but they are minor down-points. I have gained a new respect and understanding for the poor of London (and no doubt other major cities): their lives really were marginal and infinitely difficult.

Recommendation: If you like crime or mystery, and you haven’t tried this author it would be well worth reading a few to see if you like them.

Magic Carpet factor: An average 3 ½ to 4 stars from me, for taking me back in time and really engaging with the characters.

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

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Thoughts of Maria by Gregory Heath

thoughts_of_maria_coverA few weeks ago I received a copy of the e-book Thoughts of Maria by Gregory Heath. Thanks to a computer glitch it’s taken me a while to get to the review.

Synopsis: There are four main protagonists in the story who tell interleaving stories about a phase in their lives. Gerry was divorced by his wife Rachel; Maria, a young Filipina living on Manila’s dumps with her family; and Gerry and Rachel’s son Callum. The story focuses on Gerry’s decision to find a mail-order bride from Asia and the impact that has on each of the characters.

Review: The approach of revealing each character’s thoughts and aims by telling their story in interweaving chapters is interesting. The strength of this strategy is that is shows how little each of the characters really know of each other and their motivations.

I found Gerry and Maria engaging and though each had their own aspirations for the relationship, there were hidden undercurrents especially Maria not revealing her family’s dire straits. While understandable given the family’s absolute poverty, this has potential for undermining the couple’s relationship but time may have made it possible for Maria to reveal the truth. Both Gerry and Maria seem committed to making the relationship work. Gerry and Maria convinced me of their belief in family and the willingness to commit, but the behaviour of the other characters left me with the expectation that their new-found happiness might be destroyed.

Gerry’s son Callum on the other hand is a nasty piece of work….weak, conniving and generally unstable. His self-destructive behaviour leaves a potential bombshell for Gerry and Maria.

Rachel is equally flawed, dissatisfied with her life and envious of Gerry’s new relationship. Her bitterness and viciousness combined with Callum’s bombshell have the potential to completely destroy Gerry and Maria’s marriage despite their best efforts.

Gerry’s father, Arthur, makes a brief appearance which reveals where Gerry has learned his family values.

library thingI prefer a longer novel and this one was quite short, but honestly, by the end, I didn’t really want to know of might become the car-crash of their lives. The characters were certainly believable but the weakness and nastiness of Callum and Rachel meant that it wasn’t a book I enjoyed. The open ending left the reader with their own options for what would happen next.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of the book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Magic carpet factor: I gave this book three stars because of the believability of the characters. Without that it would probably have been 2½.