The freshly dead body sprawled on the Bedford Square doorstep of General Brandon Balantyne is an affront to every respectable sensibility. The general denies all knowledge of the shabbily dressed victim who has so rudely come to death outside his home. But Superintendent Thomas Pitt cannot believe him. For in the dead man's pocket he finds a rare snuffbox that recently graced the general's study. He must tread lightly, however, lest his investigation trigger a tragedy of immense proportions, ensnaring honorable men like flies in a web. Pitt's clever wife, Charlotte, becomes his full partner in probing this masterpiece of evil, spawned by an amorality greater than they can imagine . . .
Even if you prefer the tougher, edgier William Monk books by Anne Perry, such as A Breach of Promise, there's no denying the wealth of detail and the powerful emotions at work in her longer series of Victorian murder mysteries featuring Thomas and Charlotte Pitt. The Pitt books effectively merge Henry James with Raymond Chandler: by having a middleclass policeman married to a socialite, Perry can probe both worlds, as she does in Bedford Square, a story of high-level blackmail and murder.
A famous historical scandal called the Tranby Croft affair (a gambling case involving the Prince of Wales) is very much in the news when the body of a working-class man is found early one morning on the posh doorstep of General Brandon Balantyne. No one in the house claims to know the murdered man, but he has a valuable piece of jewelry belonging to the Balantynes in his pocket. Thomas Pitt and his outspoken aide, Sergeant Tellman, must tread lightly, but Charlotte--and especially her sharp relative Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould--aren't restrained by such social niceties. Gracie, the Pitts' smart and rough-tongued maid, is also a valued asset to the investigation, which proceeds in a satisfying, if not particularly surprising, manner to a highly dramatic conclusion.
Other recent books in the Pitt series include Brunswick Gardens, Ashworth Hall, and Pentecost Alley. --Dick Adler