“A Sunless Sea: A William Monk Novel” by Anne Perry / Monday, October 8, 2012 / Reviewed by Clay Stafford

Today’s featured book is A Sunless Sea: A William Monk Novel by Anne Perry.

For the brutal murder of one woman, an innocent woman may hang.

Why Clay Stafford chose this book:

Real. That’s the word I would use to describe Anne Perry’s newest novel, “A Sunless Sea.”

The astonishingly consistent author of at least 66 novels, Anne Perry is a staple of many Victorian London mystery fans and the experience of this novel explains why. This is not just a novel; it is a world.

Perry’s use of the River Police is fresh and unique and brings an unusual literary device into play, opening the stage for new characters, settings, dangers, and points-of-view which are intriguing from the first page and carry nonstop throughout the book.

The story centers around the murder of a middle-aged “prostitute” (used loosely in the nineteenth century definition of any kept woman who has intercourse outside of marriage) and is reminiscent of other “sentimental” literature such as “Oliver Twist” and “Mary Barton,” though in context we are more in the world of “Jack the Ripper.” It would be so easy in the context of the novel to go overboard on the gruesome, but instead, Perry chooses it to make it human. The plot brings forth an interesting perspective that I rarely see and that is when the police detective arrests a person who by all accounts is guilty, but the detective doubts her guilt, but must arrest her anyway. That doesn’t keep him – even though his duty is to prosecute – from also attempting to exonerate. Perry handles that complex balance deftly. The beginning was incredible: I was there. Perry explores the delicacy and brutality with equal sensitivity, not only in the portrayal of the victim, but in the relationships of the other characters including Monk (the series’ main character), his wife Hester, their friend Oliver Rathbone, and the turmoil between Rathbone and his wife Margaret.

The characters are believable including the examination of old conflicts between characters. One does not need to read the previous books in the series to become immersed in this one. Perry references previous incidents in the series without being obtrusive. The personal stories transcend all genres. Every page is full of conflict and honest, empathetic emotions.

The dialogue is straight on. The dialogue and accents are so clear I could hear the characters talking in different voices in my head. It is amazing when a writer can pull that off.

Greed, the love of money, and the disrespect of human life outside of one’s own family or personal interests are powerful motivators. Prior to this novel, I was not familiar with the Opium Wars, which are referenced throughout the novel. Taking a diversion and researching that subject on my own, I was struck with the similarity of the greed associated with that and events in our own times. I won’t be specific in my own conclusions, but will allow you to draw your own parallels. Seeing this, though, and comparing it in the context of my own time, gave Perry’s novel a contemporary context and parallel-significance for me, making it all too real.

“A Sunless Sea” is an enthralling story that will weigh on your mind even when you are not reading. The characters are real, their world is real, and I felt a part of them. I hated coming to the last page. Good thing this is a serial because at the end of the book, I was dying for more. Complex characters, elaborate plot, pristine pacing, and unusual environs all make this one of the most flawless mysteries in the Victorian historical genre.

“Many people appeared different in public from the way they might be in private, in the darkness of a backstreet far from where they lived.” Perry doesn’t just write these words, she shows us. In setting and tone, Dickens (one of my favorite and most influential authors of all time) would be proud. Few mystery authors have captivated my interest or imagination as has Anne Perry.

From Amazon:

“Anne Perry’s spellbinding Victorian mysteries, especially those featuring William Monk, have enthralled readers for a generation. The Plain Dealer calls Monk “a marvelously dark, brooding creation” – and, true to form, this new Perry masterpiece is as deceptively deep and twisty as the Thames.

As commander of the River Police, Monk is accustomed to violent death, but the mutilated female body found on Limehouse Pier one chilly December morning moves him with horror and pity. The victim’s name is Zenia Gadney. Her waterfront neighbors can tell him little – only that the same unknown gentleman had visited her once a month for many years. She must be a prostitute, but – described as quiet and kempt – she doesn’t appear to be a fallen woman.

What sinister secrets could have made poor Zenia worth killing? And why does the government keep interfering in Monk’s investigation?

While the public cries out for blood, Monk, his spirited wife, Hester, and their brilliant barrister friend, Oliver Rathbone, search for answers. From dank waterfront alleys to London’s fabulously wealthy West End, the three trail an ice-blooded murderer toward the unbelievable, possibly unprovable truth – and ultimately engage their adversaries in an electric courtroom duel. But unless they can work a miracle, a monumental evil will go unpunished and an innocent person will hang.

Anne Perry has never worn her literary colors with greater distinction than in A Sunless Sea, a heart-pounding novel of intrigue and suspense in which Monk is driven to make the hardest decision of his life.”

If you want to make your own comments on this selection, we would love to hear from you. Join ourFacebook Killer Nashville group page or our blog and join in the discussion.

Remember that these books are listed at a discount through Amazon. You also don’t have to purchase the version that is featured here. Many of these books are available in multiple formats: e–book, hardcover, softcover, and audio. Enjoy!

– Clay Stafford, Founder of Killer Nashville