Book review: An Echo of Murder by Anne Perry

An Echo of Murder by Anne Perry
An Echo of Murder by Anne Perry

Twenty-three books in and Anne Perry’s brilliantly conceived William Monk Victorian mystery series is as fresh and invigorating as ever.

With twenty million books in print throughout the world, Perry’s gripping and atmospheric murder thrillers continue to impress with their superb plotting, extraordinary characterisation and acute observation of 19th century society.

Her two best-selling and long-running series, one featuring police Commander Thomas Pitt and the other starring Commander William Monk of the Thames River Police and his wife Hester, are hugely popular and have helped Perry become one of the most admired and respected authors of historical crime fiction.

These thought-provoking and authentic whodunits harness the murky underbelly of Dickensian London with mysteries that draw unnerving and revealing parallels between the moral and ethical values of society today and those of 150 years ago.

In An Echo of Murder, we find Monk racing against a tide of malice, distrust and ethnic bigotry as London’s small but growing Hungarian community is hit by a series of shocking ritualistic murders.

In 1870, Monk is called to a warehouse at the docks and discovers one of the most violent murders he has witnessed in his tenure with the river police. A Hungarian immigrant has been murdered in what appears to be a ritualistic killing. His heart has been stabbed with a rifle bayonet, all his fingers have been broken and his body is surrounded by seventeen blood-dipped candles.

Suspecting the murder may be rooted in ethnic prejudice, Monk turns to London’s Hungarian community in the search for clues but finds his enquiries thwarted by suspicion and a language he doesn’t speak.

With the help of local Hungarian pharmacist Antal Dobokai acting as translator, Monk hopes he can start to penetrate this tightly knit enclave but soon another Hungarian is brutally murdered and he must consider whether it’s a secret society practising ritual sacrifice, a madman on a spree or someone targeting foreigners.

As the body count grows, stirring up even more fear and anger among the Hungarian émigrés, resistance to the police also increases. Racing against time and the rising tide of terror all around him, Monk must be even more relentless in his hunt for the mysterious killer.

Meanwhile, his wife Hester, a former battlefield nurse, has been reunited with a doctor who had been left for dead on a Crimean battlefield. Traumatised by his experiences, Dr Herbert Fitzherbert made his way home via Hungary and is now living in the Hungarian community.

Hester is determined to help him and, when he is accused of the killings, she sets out to prove his innocence...

Perry’s probing and intriguing storylines make it easy to see why she was selected by The Times as one of the 20th century’s 100 Masters of Crime. Here, she directs her unflinching gaze on controversial issues like ethnic prejudice and civil unrest whilst delivering a classy, compelling tale of murder, revenge and scandal.

With its wealth of historical detail and accuracy, and uncomfortable moral mazes, this is Victorian crime fiction at its best…

(Headline, hardback, £19.99)