Half Moon Street

I admit that a big part of why I picked up this Anne Perry book comes from my curiosity about the author. The writer formerly known as Juliet Hulme has the distinction few crime writers can ever claim–being a convicted murderer. The incident, which became the basis for the 1994 movie Heavenly Creatures, is well-documented and I won’t get into the details any further. Sufficed to say, it’s sordid enough to keep me completely fascinated.

My impulse-buy at Booksale also led me to consider an issue I’ve been contemplating since joining two Crime/Mystery themed reading challenges this year. Because novels with a detective or police officer as a lead are often turned into a mystery series, I’ve always been ambivalent about whether I should always start from the very beginning or allow myself to dive into a series midstream.

Half Moon Street is an interesting title to consider with this in mind. It is the 20th book in the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt Series, about a police superintendent and his wife who solve crimes together in Victorian-era London. The thing is, Charlotte Pitt is totally absent from this story save for a few letters. Being a first time reader, I don’t know what exactly I’m missing, but the constant mention of a character that doesn’t actually grace the page is disconcerting. Despite this, however, I found several things to enjoy about the story.

It starts with Thomas Pitt investigating a dead man tied to a boat on the River Thames. The corpse is wearing a green dress and was posed in an obscene parody of Millais’s Ophelia. Upon learning that his victim is part of the emerging London photography scene, Pitt and his lieutenant immerse themselves in the unsettling world of bohemian aesthetes. The issue of artistic freedom and censorship colors his investigation as questions of morality in Victorian society come into play.

I found the mystery interesting enough, if a bit slow moving. The world Anne Perry paints fascinates the Victorian fetishist (no pun intended) in me, particularly the parts where the art of photography and transgressive theatre are explored. However, the moralizing tone the author uses when discussing issues like censorship was difficult to ignore. Had there been less pontificating, the final reveal wouldn’t have felt forced and uncomfortably pointed. The red herring is also kind of pointless–I would’ve liked if Perry took a quite interesting premise to a totally different direction.

On whether reading a minor book in a series would completely turn off the reader, my personal experience with Anne Perry piqued my interest enough to give the rest of the Pitt novels another try. I like the setting very much and being an optimist, I am holding out hope that the moralizing isn’t thick on the ground in the other books.

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