cover image A Sudden, Fearful Death

A Sudden, Fearful Death

Anne Perry. Fawcett Books, $20 (383pp) ISBN 978-0-449-90637-8

In this surpassingly excellent historical and psychologically intricate mystery, the fourth to feature ``inquiry agent,'' William Monk, former policeman in Victorian England, Perry ( Defend and Betray ) makes deft use of history to cast additional light on modern-day issues. After determining, with sorrow and anger, the identity of the man who raped a young woman in the garden house of her sister's home, Monk investigates the fatal strangling of a dedicated young nurse in a London hospital. Hired by his benefactress, Lady Callandra Daviot, who sits on the hospital's Board of Governors, Monk discovers in the victim's letters suggestions of a broken relationship with Dr. Herbert Stanhope. Stanhope is arrested for the murder and engages counsel Oliver Rathbone to disprove his guilt. Rathbone, in turn, asks Monk to continue his probing of the murder. Unconvinced of Stanhope's innocence but ``sure there is more to the story than we have discovered so far,'' Monk agrees. Aided by his friend, nurse Hester Latterly, and by Lady Callandra, Monk probes the murky, limited strata of women in Victorian society, realms that are harshly illuminated during Stanhope's lengthy, riveting trial. The plot follows a dark and twisting course as Monk and the others, including Rathbone, attempt to ferret out the facts of the case and serve both truth and justice. 50,000 first printing; author tour; Mystery Guild selection. (Oct.)