Book Review – The Cater Street Hangman

  • Title: The Cater Street Hangman
  • Author: Anne Perry
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/20/2017

**Spoiler Alert** In many ways, The Cater Street Hangman starts off in a similar way to a “romance of manners” rather than a mystery novel. The Ellison family have three girls. The oldest, Sarah, is married to Dominic, but they still live in the family home. The second daughter, Charlotte, is a forthright and honest girl that the parents, Edward and Caroline, fear will never marry. If, like me, you’ve read other books in this series you know that isn’t the case. The youngest, Emily, meets the young Lord Ashworth and immediately sets her sights on him as a future husband. Emily’s parents and both her sisters discourage her – as they are middle class, Lord Ashworth is above Emily’s station, and the family fears he will hurt her in the end to marry for money or family connections.

A maid of an acquaintance is murdered, as is the daughter of another middle class family. The women are garroted in the street – a horrific crime. Then the Ellison’s maid, Lily, is murdered. Inspector Thomas Pitt informs the family and begins to ask everyone questions, so he can learn what he knows to solve the crime. Sarah instantly dislikes Inspector Pitt, and frequently insults him – of course, this means they are fated to fall for each other.

Edward consistently insults Inspector Pitt and tells him their business is none of his. Pitt is a policeman, whether Edward likes it or not, asking questions is his business. Much later in the book it turns out the reason Edward is reluctant to provide an alibi for his maid’s murder is that he was not at his club as he first says, but visiting his long-term mistress. A woman that his wife and daughters know nothing about. When they find out, it causes considerable hurt and pain to the household.

For a time, Sarah and Charlotte secretly suspect Dominic – in part because he is also being cagey about his whereabouts. But Dominic is true – he has no mistress, and although he enjoys a bit of gambling, and staying out with men at his club – he is no murderer. Sarah’s suspicions drive a bit of a rift between the two anyway. It’s also revealed that Charlotte had a bit of a crush on Dominic for years – but she knew that Sarah loved him so she never did anything about it. Over the years the two have developed a sibling relationship rather than a romantic one.

Caroline, Sarah, and Charlotte all try to convince Emily that she is aiming too high in pursuing Lord Ashcroft. By the end of the book – he proposes secretly, though due to events it will be a while before he can work things out with Edward and propose formerly.

Essentially the same thing happens with Thomas Pitt and Charlotte. Their squabbling turns to admiration, especially when Charlotte visits the police station to give Pitt some information and evidence – and is confronted with the realities of Victorian life for the poor, the suffering, and even the “criminal classes”. She’s shocked, but to her credit, she’s sympathetic to those less fortunate than herself. By the end of the book, it’s clear the two are meant to be together, and it’s no surprise when Thomas proposes in secret, then remarks he must work things out with her father. As this is the first book in the “Thomas and Charlotte Pitt” mystery series – and I’ve read later books where the two are married and solve crimes together – this is absolutely no surprise whatsoever.

The book moves along, mostly centered on the Ellison family. Caroline and Sarah are very involved with the local church, working with the vicar and his wife in good works. Throughout the book, especially as she has fears for her marriage, Sarah becomes more and more involved in her charity work, and going on visits in the parish. Pitt strongly advises the girls to never go out alone. None of them really listen.

Sarah is then murdered in the same fashion as the other women. The Ellison family is shocked. Charlotte is attacked and discovers the murderer at the same time. She’s rescued by Pitt and the murderer is arrested.

Much of this book is devoted to the daily life of the Ellison sisters, and much of that involves their interactions with the vicar and his wife. Charlotte despises the vicar – he’s sanctimoneous, and pompous. But he also blames the poor for being poor, claims that “loose morals” are the fault of women, condemns unfortunate women for their own situations, etc. He even claims that the maids and young women were murdered “because they deserved it” for not being “good Christians” and “moral people”. He’s a piece of work, and for much of the book – I suspected him as the murderer. It turns out to be his wife – who’s both bat-shit crazy and a secret lesbian. Sigh.

That the murderer was the vicar’s wife was quite the surprise. That she’s a lesbian and denying her feelings her entire life drove her to it – was, um, very uncomfortable. The “crazy lesbian” trope is damaging and really deserves to be laid to rest. I had thought this book was from 1990, but checking the copyright page – it’s from 1979. That explains the hurtful explanation for why the vicar’s wife suddenly decides to start killing the women of her parish (she apparently believed all these women were making passes at her, something she felt was “sinful” and deserving of death). But it doesn’t excuse the author’s use of a hurtful “explanation” for the five murders.

Overall, although at times the book is slow reading, and the ending has definite issues, this is a solid start to a well-known mystery series.

Advertisements

Ripper Street Season 5 Review (Spoilers)

  • Title:  Ripper Street
  • Season: 5
  • Episodes: 6
  • Discs: 2
  • Cast: Matthew MacFadyen, Adam Rothenberg, MyAnna Buring, Jonas Armstrong
  • Network:  BBC (Co-Produced by BBC, BBC Worldwide, Amazon Prime, BBC America)
  • DVD Format:  Widescreen, Color, DVD, R1, NTSC

Spoilers

Season 5 of Ripper Street opens where the previous season ended, with Edmund Reid, Capt. Homer Jackson, and Long Susan on the run. Reid’s sergeant, Drake, had been killed by Nathaniel, which they witnessed. Nathaniel is protected by his police inspector brother, Augustus Dove. Jedediah Shine returns to run Leman Street.

The season is driven by two forces: police corruption and personal loyalty. Not only is Augustus protecting his brother, but he’s willing to go to great extents to do so, including murdering anyone who knows the truth. Meanwhile, Reid’s existence now depends on loyalty – Jackson and Susan (who also have self-interest at heart, they know Reid is their best chance at survival), but the few honest coppers – Drummond and Thatcher, and also Reid’s daughter, Mathilda.

The third episode of this season tells Nathaniel’s story – not his past, which we’ve known since last season, but his present. Augustus Dove smuggles Nathaniel out of Whitechapel, and sets him up in a small house out on the moors, alone. Nathaniel catches eels in the nearby river, which he sells to the fishmonger. When for several days the fishmonger fails to arrive, Nathaniel says something to Augustus. He is basically both concerned and desperately needs people. Augustus warns against contact. Nathaniel ignores his brother, meets the fishmonger’s family, and discovers the old fishmonger has died. In due course, Nathaniel helps the young widow and her son. But also in the household is Caleb, the widow’s brother, a loathsome, brutish man. He’s the one who got drunk and killed his sister’s husband. He also abuses his sister. And, when working in the market, he mistreats Jews and overcharges them. Nathaniel gets closer to the widow. The brother finds out about it. Nathaniel and the brother fight – with the result that Nathaniel kills both the brother and the widow. The young boy, Robin, sees the murder and runs away to Whitechapel.

Augustus covers everything up, and takes in the injured Nathaniel in his own home. Augustus is also now raising Connor, the son of Homer Jackson and Long Susan. They had left the boy in the care of Bennett Drake and his wife, Rose, but after she’s widowed, she leaves Whitechapel and gives the boy to her childhood friend, Augustus.

The boy escapes, briefly. He’s taken in by Reid, Jackson, Susan, and Mimi – an old friend of Jackson who is rebuilding her theatre. However, the boy finds a newspaper that shows Reid and company as fugitives. So Robin runs. He’s found by one of the loyal police officers. However, Augustus Dove quickly discovers the boy. Before Robin can tell all he knows to the police, Dove uses his personally loyal police from J Division to take the boy away. Dove kills the child and dumps him in the river.

Reid and Jackson find the body, and at that point Jackson decides, that’s it, it’s over. There is nothing Dove won’t do and nothing they can do to bring him to justice. At first Reid argues, but then he also accepts his fate, and buries the child.

Jackson (nee Matthew Judge) and his wife Long Susan (nee Kaitlyn Swift) decide to take Connor from Dove’s house and run. They burst in, guns blazing. They injure the police on duty, kill the governess, and confront Nathaniel who is holding Connor. Susan tells Nathaniel that Augustus killed Robin. Nathaniel gives Connor to her. Nathaniel asks Augustus about the boy’s death, and Augustus lies.

Drummond sets-up Reid, and he’s arrested. Shine is at the arrest and beats up Reid. Then Shine collapses and dies. Chief Inspector Fred Abberline returns to take charge at Leman St. Reid doesn’t talk much after his arrest, but does tell Thatcher (a loyal police officer) about Robin’s death and where he buried the body. Nathaniel, meanwhile follows Thatcher. He sees Thatcher recover the body and then witnesses Augustus shoot and kill Thatcher and dump him in the nearby river, before dumping the Robin’s body again. Once his brother is gone, Nathaniel recovers the body.

Nathaniel takes the body to Reid and company, and Susan convinces him to turn himself in. Susan also convinces Matthew that before they leave, she must tell Mathilda the truth. Susan confesses her sins, including murder, to Mathilda. One of the murders that she confesses to is one that Reid was blamed for. Susan convinces Nathaniel to turn himself in. The two do so together. Susan turns herself in to the police. Nathaniel turns himself in to the police. Augustus denies even knowing his brother. However, Jackson examines the body of the child, Robin. It turns out he had Scarlet Fever which now affects Mimi and Augustus Dove. Nathaniel and Susan are taken to Newgate Prison and eventually executed. Homor Jackson takes back his original name, Matthew Judge, and returns with Connor to the US. Reid goes back to policing, in Whitechapel.

The remainder of the final episode is a collection of Reid re-experiencing his memories of previous cases, including the unsolved Ripper murders. But also, everyone leaves Whitechapel. Mathilda marries Drummond anyway, and they move away. The two have a daughter. Mathilda excludes her father from her life. Mimi also leaves Whitechapel, but her theatre opens. Augustus Dove is arrested, sent to Newgate, and his paperwork intentionally lost. The police do not want to put him on trial because too much police corruption will be exposed. But they don’t want him loose either. Reid ends up, sitting behind his desk, at Leman Street, devoting every fiber of his being to policing and justice, as he had before when the series starts.

Ripper Street is still an excellent series. The episodes are intense. The entire cast, including Jonas Armstrong (previously seen in the BBC’s Robin Hood) as Nathaniel are fantastic. The themes of the season, police corruption and personal loyalty, intertwine in a dramatic fashion and play off each other. People switch sides. People try to serve justice, but make mistakes. At times, blind loyalty has high costs, but at other times, it’s the only way to solve the issues. Also, the costumes, lightening, sets, etc. are wonderful as they have always been in this series.

The only negative I had was I could not for the life of me understand the actor playing Jedediah Shine. I’m usually good with accents, but I found Shine’s mumbling impossible to understand and it wasn’t helped by his full beard and mustache. I ended up having to turn on the captions whenever he was on screen and turn them off when he was gone. As Shine is an important character, this wasn’t helpful.

Also, I missed the daily life in Victorian Whitechapel approach of previous seasons. Previous seasons of this show had really shown the darker edge of the Victorian Era, from disease to child labor. This season focuses entirely on the main characters, and our three main characters are on the run. While this laser focus helps the season itself, it also leaves a gap. We really don’t have any idea what else is going on in Whitechapel at the time. Still Ripper Street is an excellent series and I highly recommend it.

See also, My Review of Third Season Ripper Street and My Review of Fourth Season Ripper Street.

Book Review – Good Night, Mr. Holmes

  • Title: Good Night, Mr. Holmes
  • Author: Carole Nelson Douglas
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/10/2015

Good Night, Mr. Holmes takes the familiar Sherlock Holmes short story, “A Scandal in Bohemia”, and turns it on it’s head, telling the story from Irene Adler’s point of view. It also expands the story into a full-length novel. The author gives Irene her own Watson, Penelope Huxleigh, whom Irene calls “Nell”. Nell narrates the story, and she is interesting in her own right. The daughter of a parson, when her father dies, she’s left on her own. Nell does OK, getting a job as a governess. However, when her family leaves England for the wider Empire she is left behind. She gets a very low-paying job in a London shop, room and board included, but is soon set-up by one of the other girls, and loses her job – accused of stealing.

Nell is bereft when she nearly literally runs in to Irene, who takes her under her wing. Irene is independent, free-spirited, and a struggling Opera singer and actress. Nell and Irene begin to share lodgings. Irene helps Nell get her revenge on the girl that got her sacked, then urges Nell to find better work. Nell takes a short course and learns how to type, and before long she’s making an acceptable living as a temporary typist.

Irene meanwhile, gives the occasional concert, and occasionally solves, “little problems”. The two are surviving, in the middle of a expensive, Victorian city – but by their own wits.

Irene gets a commission to find the “Zone of Diamonds” a mysteriously missing piece of the French crown jewels. Sherlock Holmes, who only appears on the periphery of the novel, is engaged for the same.

Irene investigates the Norton family, and eventually Nell gets a job as Godfrey Norton’s typist and clerk at the Temple bar (he’s a barrister).

Irene’s star as a Opera singer begins to rise, and she eventually heads to Milan, then Prague, and finally Bohemia (in the modern day Czech Republic), where she is romanced by the crown prince.

Nell meanwhile has her hands full, as Godfrey’s paralegal for all intents and purposes.

The nice thing about this novel, and what I really enjoyed about it, is that despite the description on the back – it is not a romance. This isn’t a story about Irene or even Nell meeting their future husband, Godfrey. Rather it’s the tale of two women surviving in harsh circumstances without compromising their own natures. And then there’s a mystery and missing jewels.

I quite enjoyed the book. The author is American, but the historical research rings true, though the occasional term is used that seems either out of context by time or country. Still, I liked it, and I’m glad it wasn’t a typical romantic suspense novel. I would like to read more in the series.

Recommended.

Book Review – The Whitechapel Conspiracy

  • Title: The Whitechapel Conspiracy
  • Author: Anne Perry
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 07/17/2014

I actually quite liked The Whitechapel Conspiracy. It’s only the second Anne Perry Victorian mystery novel I’ve read, and the other Highgate Rise was years ago. However, it obvious this is an established mystery/detective series. The detective is Inspector Thomas Pitt, a working class man who’s worked his way up in the police to be the head of London’s Bow Street station. His wife, Charlotte, is both a comfort and somewhat involved in his cases.

But, as this novel opens – Pitt is in trouble for doing his job. He figures out the “accidental death” of a wealthy and well-known Londoner was, in fact, murder, and figures out who the murderer is – another wealthy and influential man. The man is found guilty at trial and sentenced to hang. He appeals the sentence and is again found guilty by a panel of judges.

You would think it would be a feather in his cap, but the man’s execution has the opposite effect – Pitt finds he’s stepped on some very powerful and influential toes, indeed. He’s removed from Bow Street station, and removed from his cozy life with Charlotte. Pitt is then transferred to White Chapel, the very neighborhood of the Jack-the-Ripper slayings (four years prior to when the book is set) and the entire East End is a powder keg. Pitt is meant to be working with Special Branch undercover to discover what anti-government anarchists are up to.

Meanwhile, Charlotte, her maid, Gracie, and Pitt’s detective-sergeant Tellman are determined to find out why Ardinett killed his friend Martin Fetters, thus proving Pitt’s actions in the case were warranted and he wasn’t merely seeking unfair vengeance against a rich and powerful man.

But this is mere introduction. The plot uncovers not just one, but two “conspiracies” which must be thwarted to keep England safe.

It’s actually a very good read. And though the book was published in 2001 and is set in 1892, the themes of the book are surprisingly topical.

I enjoyed this story and I recommend it.

Non-Fiction Book Review – The Victorian Internet

  • Title: The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century’s On-Line Pioneers
  • Author: Tom Standage
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 04/12/2013

I loved this book! I highly, highly recommend it. The Victorian Internet is an excellent history of the telegraph. But it is not simply a fact-and-name filled book of inventions and advances. It’s a social history – focusing on the social impact and societal change that the telegraph brought to the world. And, cleverly the author compares the changes the telegraph brought to the Victorian world (especially in England) to changes the Internet has brought about today. This makes a study of the history of science seem so much more relevant. It’s also a quick and fun read.

The telegraph gave rise to creative business practices and new forms of crime. Romances blossomed over the wires. Secret codes were devised by some users, and cracked by others. The benefits of the network were relentlessly hyped by its advocates and dismissed by the skeptics.
– Flyleaf description

People chatted, dated, and fell in love “on-line”, but through the telegraph. Police work was changed by the telegraph. In major cities such as London, there were even problems with overloads of traffic and delays (a problem solved with pneumatic tubes being used to deliver telegraph messages to “the last mile”). It’s a fascinating history, and again, a quick and breezy read too.

I did read this book a few years ago, so I don’t remember every detail. But I do, still, remember some of the major points of the book. And I highly recommend it.

Book Review – The Map of Time

  • Title: The Map of Time
  • Author: Félix de Palma; Translated by: Nick Caistor
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 08/26/2012

This was the best novel I read in 2011 (I read the e-book edition). I enjoyed it because it almost parodies the classic British novels that I love so much. But it also reads like a Victorian early SF novel (think Wells or Verne) and, indeed, HG Wells is one of the characters in the book. The novel has three distinct parts, and it really heats up at the end when you realize exactly what is going on (I’d love to read a sequel or another book in the series but with new characters). My e-copy was bundled with a copyright-free copy of The Time Machine by HG Wells (which I didn’t really need because I’ve read it before and own copies in hardcover, paperback, and e-book formats).

The novel involves a time travel con game, HG Wells, real time travelers, and Jack-the-Ripper. I know that sounds like a lot — but it pulls it off. I cannot recommend this enough – five stars!

Update: There are two sequels planned for this novel. I have the first one, The Map of the Stars.

Book Review – Doctor Who: The Chimes of Midnight

  • Title: The Chimes of Midnight
  • Series: Doctor Who Main Range (Eighth Doctor Mini-Series 2)
  • Discs: 2 CDs
  • Author: Robert Shearman
  • Director: Barnaby Edwards
  • Characters: Eighth Doctor, Charley
  • Cast: Paul McGann, India Fisher
  • Date Reviewed on GoodReads: 12/27/2016

I originally listened to this Big Finish Eighth Doctor Audio Play when it came out in 2002. I decided to re-listen to it over Christmas, and I’m glad I did – it is a very good story to listen to around Christmas.

The Chimes of Midnight features Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor and India Fisher as his companion, Charlotte (Charley) Pollard. The play feels like Upstairs, Downstairs (the original from the 1970s featuring Jean Marsh as the Lady’s Maid, Rose) crossed with Sapphire and Steel with a dash of a 1920s British Murder Mystery thrown in. The story takes place on Christmas Eve as well. It’s one of the best conceived and realised audio plays that Big Finish have done. It’s also full-cast audio drama, not an audiobook.

The Doctor and Charley land at what appears to be an abandoned Edwardian House. But soon they are pulled into the House in an earlier period: 1906. In 1906, the staff below stairs are busily getting ready for Christmas. The scullery maid, Edith, is murdered and the staff quickly assume that The Doctor, as a guest of his Lordship, is from Scotland Yard. Or maybe he’s a famous amateur sleuth. And the servants think Edith’s death was suicide – when it was clearly murder.

As the story develops – a death occurs every hour as the Grandfather Clock chimes; but at midnight the entire story loops around and resets. Edith is always the first victim, but other servants are murdered as the loop goes around and around again. The murders also always represent the particular servant’s job and become more and more bizarre as the loop goes around and around.

But the top of the loop is always different, allowing the Doctor and Charley to gain more information about just what is going on – and to learn from it. The Doctor even gets so frightened by the paradox and time loop that he tries to leave – only to be caught in the trap again.

I won’t reveal exactly what’s happening, because I don’t want to spoil it – but it’s an excellent story, with a wonderful conclusion, and I recommend it. Also, the atmosphere really works. It’s helpful to have listened to Charley’s first story, Storm Warning prior to listening to Chimes of Midnight. Still, very highly recommended.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com

Click this link to order The Chimes of Midnight on on Download, for the current special price of $2.99.

Note: For this release only, a Limited (collector’s) edition on vinyl is also available, The Chimes of Midnight Special Edition.

Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!