Inspector William Monk, now with Queen Victoria’s River Police, serves a most unlikely function in his 15th case: eyewitness to a pair of mysterious deaths.
As he and a crew patrol the Thames one chilly December night in 1863, Monk (Death of a Stranger, 2002, etc.) sees a man and woman arguing on Waterloo Bridge. As he watches in horror, the two go over the edge and into the icy waters, where they’re drowned before Monk’s men can reach them. Was it a hideous accident? Did Toby Argyll push his ex-fiancée Mary Havilland in deliberately? Or did she pull him in with her? This last fatal act remains mysterious, but there’s no mystery about the events that led up to it: the shooting two months ago of Mary’s father, who worked for Toby and his brother Alan, and growing evidence of corruption on the job at Argyll Brothers’ extensive excavation of sewer lines the metropolis desperately needs. Despite an inventive sequence in which Monk’s wife Hester Latterly takes a friend to confront a key witness, only to see her authority squelched in a deplorably ingenious way, the seesaw mystery of who killed Toby, Mary and James Havilland remains slight and unconvincing.
Even so, the powerful image of subterranean skullduggery tirelessly proceeding beneath the heart of the city, brilliantly exploited in several key scenes, supplies just the right metaphor for the Victorian muckraking Perry might as well have patented.