That last aspect may seem a bit out of place at first. But it's what makes Louise Penny's Armand Gamache seem "known" to his legions of fans; it's what carries Carol O'Connell's prickly and dangerous Kathy Mallory into the hearts of her colleagues and readers; it's the part of Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch, and even Lee Child's feckless Jack Reacher, that pulls us to the next title, and the next.
And it's what makes Anne Perry's police Commander William Monk someone you might want for a neighbor, or on your local police force, in spite of his location in 1881 England.
In DARK TIDE RISING, Monk accepts a mission to protect the life of a wealthy real estate developer racing to ransom his kidnapped younger wife. Harry Exeter has a marriage Monk can connect with, because it's so much like his own: an unexpected and intensely valued relationship discovered against the odds, with a woman whose life is clearly worth sacrificing a fortune to save.
The protection effort and would-be rescue is going to have to take place at Jacob's Island, though. It's a location Monk knows far too well: a desperate slum of 1800s London, permeated by deadly tidal surges and even quicksand. He's witnessed death there: "He could still see the fat man sinking slowly into the tidal ooze, his mouth open, screaming, until the mud cut him off, and inch by inch he disappeared from sight." How can Monk organize his team to prevent such a disaster, while also bringing back the kidnap victim, Kate Exeter? Immaculate organization and planning must take place.
But Monk's efforts, with his men, the River Police, go quickly awry, and he's plunged into a very different and equally disastrous situation:
What he had not said, and what weighed on Monk's mind with further pain, was the thought that the kidnappers had known so much about their plans. There were five or six different ways the River Police could have got in, but the kidnappers had known precisely which ones they were going to use, how many man, and where they were along those tunnels and passages. What he forced himself to wonder was, who had told them?Perry's drama takes place in a setting where the gap between wealth and poverty set up extremes that were, in themselves, life-threatening, and the amount of effort for policing as she portrays it is accentuated by the absence of modern crime-solving tools and techniques. What Monk and his friends, including his insightful wife, must depend on is their sense of geography, their probing of human nature, and, in this rapidly developing and often twisting case, the classic threesome of crime: means, motive, opportunity. Here, the motive must somehow involve finances, as more threats and a whistle-blower's death are added to the events. But why?
It hurt even to think the words and yet they were there, whether he said them or not.
Watching Monk sort out the motives of both the criminals and his own team members is fascinating, and emotionally compelling. Leadership, the power of friendship among men, struggles for the sake of each other ... these, as much as the sucking force of London's tides, deepen DARK TIDE RISING and make it one of Perry's best books.
No need to read the preceding Monk titles before plunging into this one, although of course they'll enrich the perspective on the characters. But Perry's a pro, laying out her characters and their past anguish with spare, quick details, making this a wicked good read. The publication date is September 18, from Random House. Pick up the hardcover first edition as a treat to yourself, an anchor of hope in humanity in this politically fraught season.
PS: Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.