Betrayal at Lisson Grove by Anne Perry

February 19, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Betrayal at Lisson Grove by Anne Perry. (438 pages)

I have read a lot of Anne Perry’s crime fiction novels when my children were babies and I was too tired to read anything more challenging than basic crime fiction and page-turner novels. So I’m familiar with her characters and finding them again is like taking some news about distant relatives.

 Betrayal at Lisson Grove is a novel from the Thomas Pitt series. At the beginning of the series, Thomas Pitt is a policeman in the Bow Street police station in London, around 1885. He’s usually in charge with solving murders among the high society. His wife Charlotte and her sister Emily take part in his investigations, entering into the receptions and gathering clues for Thomas. After he was dismissed from the police, Pitt is hired by the Special Branch.

Charlotte and Thomas Pitt are an unusual couple. They met in the first book The Cater Street Hangman, when Thomas investigates the murder of Charlotte’s older sister Sarah. Thomas is the son of a steward and has been raised with the son of the estate his father was running. He’s educated and has good manners. He’s intelligent, honest, sober. His status in undefined, somewhere between the domestic and the gentleman. Charlotte is from a higher social class than Thomas and was no marriage material in her social circle as she expressed her opinions too freely. Marrying Thomas means turning her back to her social life. She does it anyway, losing material comfort to win freedom of speech and of action. Meeting Thomas makes her go out of comfortable boudoirs and face the real world.

So what’s happening in this one? While Thomas Pitt is led to investigate in St Malo (France) with his colleague Gower, his chief Victor Narraway is unjustly accused of embezzlement. The money he had secretly sent to an Irish activist who gave him information about the movement in favour of Home Rule, mysteriously came back on one of his own and rarely used bank accounts. He decides to go to Ireland to discover who sent the money back. As Pitt is his protégé, it is highly probable that he loses his job as well when he comes back from France. To protect her family’s revenues, Charlotte decides to accompany Victor Narraway to Ireland and help him discover the truth.

The plot is rather simple, it is easy to follow. The descriptions of the English and Irish societies are pleasant. Poor Englishmen lost in Saint-Malo, they miss their marmalade and their eggs and bacon for breakfast! These incredible French people never do things as English people would, so they only get apricot jam and omelette.

Anne Perry was right to have her main character change of job since she had already written about many possible ways and reasons to murder someone for personal motives. The shift in Thomas Pitt’s career gives her the possibility to explore political fights and discuss the uprisings for social rights that take place in many European countries at that time. She also writes about the situation in Ireland.

I read it on a train, it was perfect, I had an agreeable journey. I got what I was looking for, easy but satisfying crime fiction. I think my tastes are shifting regarding crime fiction: I’m more attracted by polars, as we call them in French. (I don’t think I’ll ever manage to understand the subtleties between English crime fiction categories, so I’m using the French term.) Good for me there are plenty of good polars that I haven’t read.

  1. February 19, 2011 at 9:33 am

    Your review made me chuckle. Guess at what point … You mention food. It is an important element of the daily suffering of British people living abroad… I could write a post on the British ex-pats’ missing of favourite food (Marmite, proper English bacon, oxo cubes, PGTips and what not). I’ll stop right away.
    I think I did read the first book in this series that is set in London which provided a lot of material for highly atmospherical descriptions. I do believe one doesn’t read Anne Perry because she is very suspenseful but very atmospherical? Could this be called a cozy? I find the English subgenres very useful. I know what you mean when you say polar. I think you are not much into cozy crime. I enjoy it as the characters are often eccentric or amateurs. But my favourite would be the PI stories and books with a darker undertone. Do you read Karin Slaughter at all? She wrote a series and I tend to read at least one or two per year. I was in a bookshop yesterday and saw a brandnew Anne Perry historical novel, but not crime at all. And I also noticed that the definition in the section has changed considerably. The genre is overflowing its borders (but it was the English section. Will inspect the German one next time…I still think it is more “traditional”)

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    • February 19, 2011 at 10:27 am

      Yes food… Honestly, after 3 weeks in America or Canada, I’m dying to find eatable “yaourts”, bread with no sugar in it, vegetables and dark chocolate. I don’t miss French food that much in Italy or Marocco, though. I once spent two weeks eating Greek salads because 1) salad was the only way to eat vegetables in a restaurant 2) I had already spent one week trying every available salad dressing — French, Ranch… — only to discover I couldn’t swallow any of them and only Greek salad can be eaten without dressing. So I understand you can miss food, but not the very first day you’re abroad !

      I like the term of “cozy crime”, really. Sure the subgenres are useful, it’s just I can’t figure out precisely where a given book belongs. The problem is me, not the subgenres.
      I used to like cozy crimes a lot but I’ve changed now. Some are really funny like Alexander McCall Smith and his amateur detective in Botswana. Anne Perry is different. Sure, before Pitt changed of job, the books were mostly whodunnits in the London high society. But she’s different from Patricia Wentworth or Agatha Christie, for example. She spends time explaining social codes, describing London and giving details about social classes and living conditions in that time. It’s interesting. And it’s nice to see the characters move on with their lives and not be frozen like Poirot or Miss Silver.

      You may / might like her other series with William Monk. It takes place in London in the 1860s. In the first book, Monk wakes up after a carriage accident. He has lost his memory but has told no one. He needs to investigate a murder and he doesn’t remember how to act, who his colleagues are and who he is. The slow rebuilding of his memory is interesting, it adds another mystery, especially because he’s not that happy about what he discovers about himself. The female character is unusual too. Hester has taken part in the Crimea War as a nurse. She’s breaking social codes too. Both of them are sort of outcasts. Anne Perry always gives historical details and I searched for more about the Crimea war. So I learnt something and I’m always grateful for this.

      I’ve never read Karin Slaughter, but I’ll have a look at her books. (If it’s not a pen-name, how can that be more ironical for a crime fiction writer?)

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  2. February 19, 2011 at 11:18 am

    It seems Slaughter is her real name and it does suit her well. The books are quite graphic. After reading your explanation I think Anne Perry does not write cozies. I read her novel such a long time ago and all I remember is a bit of a gothic feel and a lot of fog. Hester sounds like an interesting character. Character developpment is really not something you find always in series. I appreciate it when it is done but it means you have to read the series chronologically. I will see if I can find one of the Monk series.
    Being abroad can be a challenge food wise. I often suffer but usually not on the first day either.

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  3. February 23, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    It sounds fun but of a sort that I’m not presently in the market for. It’s easy to see why books like these can win so many fans isn’t it? Your comment about a new one being like hearing news from distant relatives is absolutely spot on.

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    • February 24, 2011 at 9:43 am

      I suppose you’d rather read SF when you’re looking for easy reading. It’s like watching an action movie or an easy comedy.

      I also feel like hearing news from distant relatives when I take a new book from Elizabeth George. I was curious to see how Linley would cope with his wife’s death and how Havers moves on with her life. (The TV version is awful, btw and does no justice to the books)

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      • February 24, 2011 at 11:52 am

        SF or to be honest a book like this, but I already have other crime series I’m invested in so there’s not really space for another. Were there this could easily fit the bill.

        That relatives component is why it’s so hard to pick these books up in the middle. Every now and then I see a review of say book five from some series by a reviewer who’s not read the previous ones and they always comment on the characters seeming flat and unconvincing. The reason of course is that it’s assumed the reader already knows them and all the work of making them vivid was already done through the previous volumes.

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        • February 24, 2011 at 11:56 am

          I agree with you, you need to start them in chronological order.
          What crime series do you follow ?

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  4. February 24, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    Chester Himes’ Harlem series.

    The Lew Archer novels by Ross MacDonald.

    Walter Moseley’s Easy Rawlins novels, which I should get back to in fact.

    The Hap and Leonard novels by Joe R Lansdale, which I should also get back to.

    And while I’ve only read one of each I intend to read more Pelecanos and more of the Dave Robicheaux novels by James Lee Burke.

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    • February 24, 2011 at 12:07 pm

      Great, I’ve never tried any of them. (I have a Chester Himes waiting for me at home though). New reading ideas, perfect!

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