- - Thursday, February 16, 2017



By Anne Perry

Ballantine, $28, 320 pages

Commander William Monk has been haunted for many years by loss of memory suffered in an accident and that disaster has turned into a nightmare in which he finds himself facing charges of murder and a possible death sentence.

Not even the faith and loyalty of his wife Hester and his friend, barrister Oliver Rathbone, can produce a defense for a man who has been in agony for so many years because of what he cannot remember. Now he is faced with what may be the terrible truth about what happened in San Francisco all those years ago. Anne Perry as usual presents a wrenching picture of a man in psychological pain, and even adds the quirk of a strange love affair.

It is the love story of Lady Beata York, the widow of Sir Ingram York, a sadistic judge who had concealed his cruelty and his personal proclivities on the bench while indulging them on his unfortunate wife. The romance between Beata and Oliver Rathbone, began in court and came to a dramatic end when the deranged judge attacked the barrister and suffered a stroke. York’s death a few months later frees his widow and her lover but turns out to be the beginning of a trail of crimes.

As commander of the riverboat police Monk finds himself deeply embroiled in two escapes by criminals. When he rescues the men, and one dies, he is accused of causing the death. The problem is exacerbated by the hostility of a customs officer toward Monk. Once again, that dislike is deeply rooted and Monk cannot track its origin except again it is linked to his loss of memory. The question may be raised that Monk makes too little effort to follow up on what he does remember of his troubles and it comes as a relief that his future adventures will not be constantly tied to what he can’t recall.

As in all Perry mysteries, the highlight of the story lies in the drama of courtroom scenes as Monk and Rathbone fight a legal battle for his life. The cobweb of clues turns out to wind around an intriguing couple with a dark history. Aron Clive was known as the king of the San Francisco gold rush, deeply involved in the financial dealings and also in the crimes that punctuated those colorful days. His wife is the glamorous Miriam Clive, who is still haunted by the murder of her first husband and Monk was one of those she suspected of killing him. But it is the unhappy Beata who comes closest to the basic truth. It is she who is aware that Miriam can rescue Monk if she tells all she knows about her husband’s death. If she identifies the real killer, it will clear Monk but likely destroy the Clives.

Ms. Perry obviously enjoys writing courtroom scenes and she is at her best when she chronicles the desperate testimony of Beata York and the subsequent crucial appearance of Miriam Clive, who holds the key to the mystery.

The dialogue between the judge, the prosecution and the Rathbone defense saves Monk and at last puts an end to what he cannot remember. It also clears his name of the rumors that have tainted his reputation for years, and the grim jigsaw falls into place and restores him to normal life.

But the denouement is a disastrous turn of events for Miriam Clive. The book ends in unavoidable tragedy which is not going to be revealed in this review. That revelation requires that the reader finish this absorbing mystery with no additional help.

• Muriel Dobbin is a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and The Baltimore Sun.

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