cover image Weighed in the Balance

Weighed in the Balance

Anne Perry. Fawcett Books, $23 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-449-91078-8

The byzantine politics and aristocratic squabbles of a small German principality called Felzburg exasperate and puzzle William Monk in his seventh distinctive appearance (after Cain His Brother). Monk, a Victorian-era ""agent of inquiry,"" is still haunted by a baffling amnesia, and he feels that his associates--the rigidly proper barrister Sir Oliver Rathbone and the uncompromising and outspoken nurse Hester Latterly--have taken on more than they can handle when Sir Oliver decides to defend Countess Zorah Rostova against a slander charge. The patriotic Zorah has accused Princess Gisela of Felzburg of murdering her husband, Prince Friedrich, heir to the throne, who presumably had died as a result of a fall from a horse. Gisela is suing. The issue of slander is almost lost in all the politicking. Gisela and Friedrich had lived in English exile, Gisela having played a sort of Wallis Simpson role to Friedrich's Edward. But Friedrich dreamed of returning triumphant to Felzburg in order to defend the statelet's independence against the unifying tide of Germany. Zorah's defense requires that Monk polish his image, refine his abrasive nature and interview some devious, scheming--and perhaps murderous--aristocrats. Was Friedrich poisoned? Was Gisela the intended target? Who profits? Are personal or political motives dominant? Perry indulges her characters in a bit too much unproductive speculation, but the novel springs to life in the courtroom scenes, where careful investigation and astute teamwork produce some astonishing revelations that presage the end of Victorian propriety and an era's pretense of innocence. Major ad/promo; Mystery Guild main selection; author tour. (Oct.)