cover image The Hyde Park Headsman

The Hyde Park Headsman

Anne Perry. Fawcett Books, $21 (392pp) ISBN 978-0-449-90636-1

In addition to being a splendidly plotted yarn, Perry's 14th Thomas and Charlotte Pitt mystery, following last year's Farrier's Lane , explores the nature of power while adding detail and color to Perry's ever more elaborate tapestry of late-19th century London life. The discovery in Hyde Park of the decapitated corpse of Oakley Winthrop, a naval captain from a titled family, sends a ripple of fear through the city that still has vivid memories of Jack the Ripper. Those at the top clearly expect Thomas, recently named superintendent in charge of the Bow Street station, to catch the murderer summarily. Thomas views the attack as personally motivated and isolated until a second headless corpse turns up in the park. Adding to the pressure on the new superintendent is Nigel Uttley, candidate in a Parliamentary by-election and member of the Inner Circle, a powerful secret society, who uses the murders as fodder for some rousing electioneering at police expense. While Thomas, spurred on by the discovery of yet another body, determinedly searches for a link among the dead men, Charlotte and her sister, Emily Radley, turn their drawing-room skills to information gathering and uncover a secret to which Thomas was blind. By painting her characters' personal dilemmas as vividly as she does their historical context, Perry keeps her series fresh and continually compelling. (Mar.)