cover image Ashworth Hall

Ashworth Hall

Anne Perry. Fawcett Books, $24 (373pp) ISBN 978-0-449-90844-0

Having mastered all the elements of top-notch historical fiction and mystery plotting, Perry adds high political drama to her Victorian-era Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series. When prominent Irish Catholics and Protestants meet at Ashworth Hall to discuss legal reform, police superintendent Thomas Pitt (with his assistant, Tellman, reluctantly posing as valet) is charged with the task of discreetly guarding the meeting's chairman, Ainsley Greville of the Home Office. The assignment is natural, since Ashworth belongs to Emily Radley, Pitt's sister-in-law. Religious and national hatreds promptly crack any veneer of civility. But angry words over tea are merely prologue: Greville, considered indispensable to a peaceful resolution of Ireland's troubles, is murdered in his bath. While Pitt and Tellman ascertain that the murderer is neither an intruder nor a servant, Jack Radley, Emily's husband, assumes Greville's role and the meetings continue. Although Pitt learns that the philandering Greville was as likely to be murdered for personal reasons as political ones, Emily remains terrified for Jack's safety, and rightfully so: her guests' appetite for blood is far from satisfied. As absorbing and elegantly constructed as last year's Pentecost Alley, this mystery speaks directly to what is still a current political issueDand offers some very harsh words about the romanticization of historical grievances. By commenting on the seductive dangers of allowing anger to become habit, emotion to circumvent reason and legend to supplant history, Perry addresses much more than any one political problem, past or present. Author tour. (Mar.)