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Betrayal at Lisson Grove by Anne Perry

February 19, 2011 10 comments

Betrayal at Lisson Grove by Anne Perry. (438 pages)

I have read a lot of Anne Perry’s crime fiction novels when my children were babies and I was too tired to read anything more challenging than basic crime fiction and page-turner novels. So I’m familiar with her characters and finding them again is like taking some news about distant relatives.

 Betrayal at Lisson Grove is a novel from the Thomas Pitt series. At the beginning of the series, Thomas Pitt is a policeman in the Bow Street police station in London, around 1885. He’s usually in charge with solving murders among the high society. His wife Charlotte and her sister Emily take part in his investigations, entering into the receptions and gathering clues for Thomas. After he was dismissed from the police, Pitt is hired by the Special Branch.

Charlotte and Thomas Pitt are an unusual couple. They met in the first book The Cater Street Hangman, when Thomas investigates the murder of Charlotte’s older sister Sarah. Thomas is the son of a steward and has been raised with the son of the estate his father was running. He’s educated and has good manners. He’s intelligent, honest, sober. His status in undefined, somewhere between the domestic and the gentleman. Charlotte is from a higher social class than Thomas and was no marriage material in her social circle as she expressed her opinions too freely. Marrying Thomas means turning her back to her social life. She does it anyway, losing material comfort to win freedom of speech and of action. Meeting Thomas makes her go out of comfortable boudoirs and face the real world.

So what’s happening in this one? While Thomas Pitt is led to investigate in St Malo (France) with his colleague Gower, his chief Victor Narraway is unjustly accused of embezzlement. The money he had secretly sent to an Irish activist who gave him information about the movement in favour of Home Rule, mysteriously came back on one of his own and rarely used bank accounts. He decides to go to Ireland to discover who sent the money back. As Pitt is his protégé, it is highly probable that he loses his job as well when he comes back from France. To protect her family’s revenues, Charlotte decides to accompany Victor Narraway to Ireland and help him discover the truth.

The plot is rather simple, it is easy to follow. The descriptions of the English and Irish societies are pleasant. Poor Englishmen lost in Saint-Malo, they miss their marmalade and their eggs and bacon for breakfast! These incredible French people never do things as English people would, so they only get apricot jam and omelette.

Anne Perry was right to have her main character change of job since she had already written about many possible ways and reasons to murder someone for personal motives. The shift in Thomas Pitt’s career gives her the possibility to explore political fights and discuss the uprisings for social rights that take place in many European countries at that time. She also writes about the situation in Ireland.

I read it on a train, it was perfect, I had an agreeable journey. I got what I was looking for, easy but satisfying crime fiction. I think my tastes are shifting regarding crime fiction: I’m more attracted by polars, as we call them in French. (I don’t think I’ll ever manage to understand the subtleties between English crime fiction categories, so I’m using the French term.) Good for me there are plenty of good polars that I haven’t read.

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