Anne Perry, Author . Ballantine $25.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-345-44009-9

The strain of publishing two major novels a year continues to show in bestseller Perry's 14th historical to feature private inquiry agent William Monk and his wife, Hester, despite the fresh start for Monk, who has recovered from the amnesia that afflicted him in Death of a Stranger (2002). In the autumn of 1873, because he needs the money, Monk agrees to recover valuable cargo stolen from a ship waiting to be unloaded at an East End London dock for the ship's owner, Clement Louvain, with the proviso that Louvain will also prosecute the thieves for murdering the ship's watchman. Monk enlists the aid of a young Cockney orphan, Scuff, who doubts Monk's ability to investigate a Docklands crime: "Yer in't got the wits fer it, nor the stomach neither. Yer stick to wot yer can do—wotever that is." Meanwhile, Hester, who receives no pay for the clinic she runs for streetwalkers, must deal with an unexpected death that she suspects may be murder. Unfortunately, the author too often tells rather than shows. The reader waits impatiently for the "ruthless" Monk to say or do something that suggests that quality. Still, with its focus on the lower classes and the Thames, the plot will resonate with fans of Dickens's riparian novel, Our Mutual Friend . And, as always, Perry uses her characters and story to comment on ethical issues that remain as relevant today as they were in Victorian times. Expect another bestseller. Agent, Donald Maass. (On sale Apr. 27)

FYI: Perry has recently edited a mystery anthology with a Charles Dickens theme , Death by Dickens (Forecasts, Feb. 23).

Reviewed on: 03/29/2004
Release date: 04/01/2004
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