Cmdr. William Monk, of the Thames River Police, agrees to join a distraught husband in the ransom exchange for his kidnapped wife only to find every conceivable thing going disastrously wrong in Perry’s latest slice of Victorian skulduggery.
When his wife, Kate, is lured away from her cousin Celia Darwin, who’s joined her for lunch in Battersea Park, wealthy developer Harry Exeter is perfectly willing to pay the enormous sum her kidnappers demand even if it means exhausting his own resources and tapping into an inheritance Maurice Latham, another cousin, is holding in trust for Kate for another 18 months. Because the criminals have appointed dark, treacherous Jacob’s Island as the place to trade their victim for the ransom, Exeter’s attorney, Sir Oliver Rathbone, suggests that his old friend Monk accompany him, and Monk himself handpicks five members of the TRP to join them: officers Bathurst, Laker, Marbury, Walcott, and Hooper, his second-in-command. Upon their arrival at Jacob’s Island, the party is ambushed by a crew that makes off with the money, leaving behind the brutally slashed corpse of Kate Exeter. Since their assailants clearly knew in advance the precise movements of Monk and his team, Monk (An Echo of Murder, 2017, etc.) is forced to concede that one of his own men may have betrayed him. As he struggles to fix the guilt on one of them (bantam street fighter Walcott? Bathurst, whose family is eternally in financial straits? Hooper, whom he’d trusted more than once with his life?), two other murders follow, and John Hooper complicates matters even further by falling in love with Celia Darwin—an apparent tangent that will play a crucial role in precipitating the courtroom climax.
One of the most successful of prolific Perry’s recent Victorian melodramas. The opening chapters are appropriately portentous, the mystification is authentic, and if the final surprise isn’t exactly a shock, it’s so well-prepared that even readers who don’t gasp will nod in satisfaction.