Bereft for three weeks of his wife and children, Supt. Thomas Pitt is ripe for the potential international political scandal that
looms when a manacled, bludgeoned male body is found in a punt on the Thames. The problem is that the mystery of the corpse
tarted up in a torn green velvet dress and laid out like a parody of Millais’s painting of Ophelia doesn’t seem to be large enough
to hold Perry’s attention span for much of the novel, even though the initial setup is intriguing enough. The body is first
misidentified as missing French diplomat Henri Bonnard then discovered to be celebrated social photographer Delbert Cathcart.
Perry does her usual handy job with the familiar details of Victoriana, including an engaging backstage scene with offstage cameos
by Oscar Wilde and William Butler Yeats. But she spends more time with a melodramatic scandal that haunts Grandmama Mariah
Ellison—and with bloated, anachronistic tracts on subjects from women’s freedom (sexual and otherwise) to divorce laws to
censorship in the arts to the demoralizing effects of nudie art postcards—than she does in showing Pitt solving his crime. By the
time the two stories dovetail in a rather too conveniently plotted resolution, the reader, weary from impassioned discussions of
duty, honor, loyalty, longing, and loneliness, may not care who put the body in the punt.
For fans of prolific Perry, a comfortably stalwart contribution to the Pitt canon (Bedford Square, 1999, etc.); others might
be better served by starting earlier on. (Author tour)