William Monk, of Queen Victoria’s Thames River Police (A Sunless Sea, 2012, etc.), steps outside his bailiwick to rescue his friend Sir Oliver Rathbone from a dire fate.
It all begins when Monk’s wife, Hester, hears from Josephine Raleigh, one of her assistants at the clinic she runs in Portpool Lane, that Abel Taft has extracted so many donations to the poor from his Nonconformist congregants that some of them, including Josephine’s father, John, are approaching destitution themselves. Brothel keeper–turned-bookkeeper Squeaky Robinson, pressed by Hester to investigate the Brothers of the Poor, soon reports that precious few of those donations are actually going to the poor, and Taft is promptly put on trial for fraud. Rathbone, newly appointed to the bench, is the presiding judge, and he soon realizes that the case isn’t going nearly as well as it should. Under the expert questioning of Taft’s barrister, Blair Gavinton, Brothers of the Poor steward Robertson Drew succeeds in making Taft’s accusers, including Hester herself, look silly, intemperate or malicious. Suddenly, Rathbone realizes that he has a secret weapon against Drew: an extremely compromising photograph bequeathed to him by his malignant father-in-law, Arthur Ballinger (Execution Dock, 2009), that would utterly destroy Drew’s reputation and render his testimony worthless. Should he share the photo with prosecutor Dillon Warne or keep it to himself? After much agonizing, Rathbone decides to share it—and then watches as a stunning development in the case leads to his own arrest for perverting the course of justice. Now it looks as if the imprisoned judge will either rot in jail or fall victim to one of the criminals he’d tried—unless of course Monk and Hester can somehow clear his name.
Paring back on her usual period detail, Perry produces her fleetest tale in years. If the courtroom sequences are never exactly surprising, they’re guaranteed to produce the deep satisfaction you feel after hearing a series of particularly rousing speeches.