A monstrous conspiracy among Queen Victoria's best and brightest is betraying secrets of Britain's African policy to rival German diplomats -- and killing anyone who opposes them. Thomas Pitt, newly appointed Bow Street superintendent (The Hyde Park Headsman, 1994, etc.), learns of the plot when his childhood friend Sir Matthew Desmond approaches him with two shocking pieces of news: His father, foreign office veteran Sir Arthur Desmond, has just been fatally poisoned at his club; and someone in the office for colonial affairs has been smuggling information about African treaties and resources to the Germans. The primary suspects: members of the Inner Circle, a self-anointed policy cabal which has come to exact loyalty oaths from its high-placed members, whom it punishes without mercy for transgressions. As Pitt dutifully makes the rounds of the office of colonial affairs, interviews the big, homogeneous cast, and sits in impotent silence while the coroner's court on Sir Arthur brings in a verdict of death by misadventure, more trouble is brewing. Sharp disagreements about Britain's imperialistic policies come to a head when Susannah Chancellor, outspoken wife of the secretary of state for colonial affairs, is found lodged in the Thames slipway beneath Traitors Gate. Of course, it's the long arm of the Inner Circle again, but which member is acting as executioner this time? All the period touches, enlightened 20th-century sentiments, and show-stopping tableaux Perry's fans have come to expect, though the plotting is plodding, the Inner Circle unconvincing, and Pitt more dogged than inspired.