Anne Perry, . . Ballantine, $25.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-345-44005-1

Bestseller Perry's latest novel (after 2001's Funeral in Blue) to feature mid-Victorians William Monk and his wife, Hester, offers an ingenious and baffling plot, compelling characters, both major and minor, plus plenty of courtroom drama, but is something of a diamond in the rough. In London's East End, Hester, a former nurse with Florence Nightingale, has established a shelter for prostitutes where the ill and injured can be treated. One night, a well-known railway magnate is found dead in a nearby brothel, and the police presence in the area grinds the illicit business of the pimps and prostitutes to a halt. William, meanwhile, has undertaken a private investigation into possible fraud. His client, the fiancée of a young executive for the same railway as the murder victim, fears her betrothed may be implicated in the fraud scheme. As William recognizes parallels with the past, memories that he lost in an accident seven years earlier start to haunt him. Unfortunately, the book suffers from hasty execution, as reflected in repetitious phrasing, pronouns with unclear antecedents and confusing narrative transitions between Hester and William and between William in the present and William before his amnesia. The result is a challenging read, though established fans will likely forgive the author her lapses because she tells such a wonderful story. (Oct. 1)

Forecast:Perry is also the author of the Thomas Pitt Victorian series, most recently Southampton Row (Forecasts, Jan. 14), which was up to her usual high standard. Pressure to deliver the same quality on the first of her forthcoming WWI quintet may account for the relative weakness of what seems like a wrapup of the Monk series. Nonetheless, this entry should sell well enough.