Cmdr. William Monk, of the Thames River Police (Execution Dock, 2009, etc.), continues his quest to cure Victorian London of all its social ills—this time, of the horrors of unregulated opium.
No one would care tuppence about the murder of a woman Monk has trouble even identifying as Zenia Gadney, a reputed widow of uncertain means, if she hadn’t been killed in such a spectacular fashion: bashed to death, gutted and left on Limehouse Pier. But the news that the monthly visitor who paid Zenia’s household expenses for 15 years was Dr. Joel Lambourn turns the case into a hot potato. Before he was found dead in Greenwich Park, Lambourn had been conducting research into opium use on behalf of a government commission chaired by rising political star Sinden Bawtry, a commission considering the regulation of opium whose members included Barclay Herne, the husband of Lambourn’s sister, Amity. The verdict on Lambourn’s death was suicide, but Dinah, his widow, tells Monk he was murdered. Little does she know that her insistence that Monk reopen the case will lead to her own arrest for Zenia’s murder. Begging Sir Oliver Rathbone to defend her, she sets up an impossible situation: The more Rathbone learns about Lambourn’s research into the evils of opium—especially the threat of its injection directly into the bloodstream through those villainous new hollow-stemmed needles—the more difficult he realizes it will be to make a case against powerful forces deeply invested in keeping the drug freely flowing.
Lumbering, repetitive and preachy. But the final surprise packs a punch, and the overlong courtroom sequences show how much Perry’s learned about legal testimony since Cain His Brother (1995).