A Killer Stalks The Thames…Again

“An Echo of Murder” is a recent addition to the William Monk series of Victorian mysteries created by Anne Perry.  Commander William Monk of the Thames River Police is called out to look into the bizarre murder of a Hungarian immigrant which has ritualistic overtones. Unfortunately, the killer does not appear to stop with just one victim. It is clear that the Hungarians living and working along the Thames have a serial killer in their midst.

As usual with Anne Perry, there are deeper, more personal memories and heartaches being unearthed as well.  An old friend of Hester Monk’s, with whom she served on the battlefields of the Crimean War, has fallen under suspicion. There is also an exploration of the aftermath of Hester’s decision to use her skills as a nurse far from home in the chaos of war, leading to some devastating personal consequences on the home front.  I had forgotten that Hester had a brother with whom she was estranged after some tragic family circumstances. Anyway, he was reintroduced with a young orphan as his ward, and that could give the series a little interesting dynamic as it continues.

William Monk’s amnesia seems to have returned to the background again. The first book in the series introduced him with having no memory of his past and piecing it together as the series unfolded over the past years.  Only those closest to him know of his rather unusual handicap, however I think Perry made a good choice with having Monk make peace with not being able to actually recover his memory.  Many of his questions had been answered in his turbulent investigative career, but it’s still important for the reader to understand what made him fairly unique in the world of literary detective fiction.

I found some of the personal dynamics and growth of various characters to be more compelling than the actual crime, however I often feel that way reading Anne Perry. Scuff, an orphan taken in some time ago by the Monks, is on the cusp of manhood and has decided to embark on a medical career.  Although he shares some fogginess about his own past and origins, much like Monk, his problem was brought on more by lack of adult guidance, malnutrition, and just having to survive the meaner streets and ports of London with only his wits and agility.  Scuff could not remember his own name, so he has adopted the moniker of Will Monk, in  honor of his mentor and guardian.

The story ending up as a courtroom drama is getting too predictable. Perry could probably stand to break the pattern a little bit. The Monks have a complicated friendship with a barrister named Oliver Rathbone, who really keeps turning up in every book under occasionally seemingly forced circumstances. He’s an interesting enough character, but I want to see Monk do more legwork along the river. I want to see Monk get into a scuffle or two. I don’t need him to have to go to court again and endure more gasping and outraged onlookers as he testifies.

Anne Perry does not appear too shy about letting some of her social justice colors fly. This novel really seems inspired by all the controversy over immigration in recent years, although it isn’t borrowed directly by current headlines.  I do like that she chose the Hungarian community as the subject since I don’t usually hear much about them. I imagine there is a fascinating history to explore regarding the clash of cultures between the English and the Hungarians, especially in the middle of the Victorian era.  I also felt reminded that the issues facing our nation and dominating our headlines have really been going on far longer than we care to remember.

To be fair, Anne Perry probably feels somewhat obligated to the expectations of her fans, but as a fan myself, I have to say it’s alright with me if she bucks a few of her story traditions at times.  I still enjoy the characters and how they have developed over the years. I like Monk in his most recent position, but I think Perry can contrive a reason for him to be off the river occasionally, giving him some freedom to roam the city, if not the country.  The crime itself was moderately interesting if a little overdone in other crime fiction, however the motives behind the murders was a bit of an unexpected twist. The solution did really seem to present itself more by dumb luck than anyone’s actual cleverness.  It’s still a good book in the grand scheme of things, and I will likely read the next one.

From the grimy and troubled shores of the Thames in the nineteenth century to a future where people seek asylum from their troubles in virtual reality, I will next be reading “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline.

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