cover image A Breach of Promise

A Breach of Promise

Anne Perry. Fawcett Books, $25 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-449-90849-5

In this latest William Monk tale (after The Silent Cry, 1997), Perry offers her strongest indictment yet of Victorian England and a society ""where beauty and reputation were the yardsticks of worth."" Barrister Sir Oliver Rathbone defends Killian Melville, a talented young architect, in a breach of promise suit brought by Melville's benefactor, Barton Lambert, in support of Lambert's daughter Zillah. Melville insists that Mrs. Lambert, desperate that her daughter marry, misconstrued his friendship with the young woman. Meanwhile, Hester Latterly is hired to nurse Gabriel Athol, who was tragically injured in India and whose wife, Perdita, finds her desire to understand his suffering thwarted by a brother-in-law who insists that women be shielded from the realities of war and violence. Hester befriends Perdita's maid, Martha, who is desperate to find her two deaf, disfigured nieces who vanished years ago when her brother died and his wife disappeared. Rathbone hires Monk to investigate Melville and the Lamberts; Hester implores Monk to help Martha. The first case ends tragically before the startling truth behind Melville's refusal to marry is revealed; the second project ends on a happier note. Perry does a masterful job depicting Victorian hypocrisy regarding women. But she draws her stories together with an incredible connection whose dissonance spoils an otherwise exceptional novel. Mystery Guild main selection. (Oct.)