Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Forgotten Books: Resurrection Row by Anne Perry

Forgotten Books: Resurrection Row by Anne Perry

Between the ages of ten and fourteen I probably read a hundred or more traditional mysteries. In those days, the Fifties, the type I preferred leaned heavily on plot and atmosphere. The ones that dealt with the mysteries of adulthood offered the titillation of modest sexual references but I was too young to understand the emotional underpinnings of all that smart intriguing adult behavior.

I've never outgrown the enjoyment some traditional mysteries give me. Even when I was reading fifteen hard-boiled paperbacks a month* I still picked up a traditional at least twice a month or so.

Today I have a list of reliables whom I read each time they publish, one of them being Anne Perry. I prefer her first series, that of commoner Inspector Thomas Pitt and his royal wife Charlotte. Perry writes in a straight clear way that allows for a fair amount of description--necessary if she's to create a believable Victorian era--that somehow never seems to slow the story.

If you haven't read Perry I'd suggest you start with Resurrection Row, an early Pitt and Charlotte notable for its cleverness of plot and its particularly droll skewering of the British royal classes.

The set up is a bit like Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry (a film only I seem to enjoy) in that the corpse of Lord Augustus Fitzroy-Hammond keeps being buried and then keeps reappearing, still dead of course, in hansom cabs and church pews among other places. But make no mistake. For all Perry's occasional ironical comments on the society her books are almost always about evil. They are filthy with it.

In Resurrection Row Perry takes us through a land where the Dickensian trajectory of one's life is often set at birth. The poor are poor and shall forever be so, often as the handmaidens and fetchers of the wealthy. She gives us a cast drawn from both ends of the class system and lavishes motives on each person. Perry is good at what I call double-back plotting. She likes to give readers a surprise and then quickly trump it with an even bigger surprise. She's master at it.

Don't worry--if you like picture postcards of the Victorian era they're here, everything from the extraordinary mansions to the upstairs-downstairs staff to the Gilbert and Sullivan opera that opens the book. Fortunately that's not enough for Perry nor, I suspect, for the legions of readers who've made her an international best seller.

She's got a hangman's thirst for justice and she takes no prisoners.

* The summer I turned thirteen I bought new Death Takes The Bus by Lionel White with a Mitchell Hooks cover that hypnotized me. My first Gold Medal. It was such a great read I started going to the three used bookstores on my side of town. They kept me supplied for a long time. I read all Spillane, Prather, Rabe, Hammett (Chandler was a few years away) and just about every other hardboiled pb I could find. By age fifteen I began to develop my own sense of what was worth reading and what was not. But I sure packed away a lot of books while I was learning.


MORON ALERT: Will somebody who really knows AOL please contact me at I must've done something to AOL because it's sure doing something to me. Thanks Ed


Judith said...

Excellent post, good to see another Anne Perry admirer. I agree that the Pitt series is probably better, but I like the Monk series too, though I haven't read any of her books for years and don't know what her latest books are like. I like that she doesn't romanticise or gloss over the nastier aspects of Victorian life.

Evan Lewis said...

Thanks for the tip, Ed. I only know Anne Perry from a Holmes pastiche or two. Read my first Spillane when I was 11 (The Deep, I think). It's his fault I'm twisted.

Steve Oerkfitz said...

I'm well aware of Anne Perry but have never read anything of hers yet.
I also got hooked on Ross MacDonald, John D. MacDonald, Chandler, Prather in the early 60's. Never liked Spillane tho.

Unknown said...

The Trouble with Harry is one of my favorite films ever.