by Anne Perry
Although Darwin came out with his ground-breaking theory of evolution in the 1850s forty years on this stone dropped in the lake of belief is still causing not merely ripples but tidal waves. The Reverend Parmenter’s assistant embraced Darwinism wholeheartedly along with the fervent belief in the equality of women and the individual’s right to freedom. When she is found dead at the bottom of the stairs Superintendent Pitt is called in to avert a scandal at what looks like an open and shut case. Bu Unity Bellwood’s last words of “no, no Reverend!” before she fell point to a verdict of murder not misadventure. Probing deeper into the mystery Pitt uncovers the fact that almost the entire household all appear to have a motive for her murder and one of them is a figure from Pitt’s past who creates trouble wherever he goes.
I find Perry’s entire books well plotted and entertaining but this one is particularly thought provoking. As usual I applauded the way in which the dead person is actually mourned and the fate of those left behind is the subject of much thought and discussion. This is not a novel in which solving the murder is treated like a game as it is in many classic detective stories. The period detail is meticulous too; it is the fault of too many historical novels to show people of the past as modern figures in historical dress. They often tend to gloss over the fact that although people are people under the skin it is their beliefs that make them different and it is due to this that their actions often seem foreign. It is only a hundred years ago but this novel shows the reader how differently the average Victorian regarded of science and religion. It is hard for most of us today to picture the devastating effect Darwin’s theories had upon people who had grown up believing that the world was created by God in six days and that we are the descendants of Adam and Eve. For me the detective story – though it kept me guessing and was highly entertaining – was secondary to this illuminating insight into the minds of people a century ago. One to go into the new Millennium with and wonder how people will think of us in a hundred years’ time.
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