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The Cater Street Hangman by Anne Perry
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Dec 28, 2008

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bookshelves: fiction, mystery, historical

A lengthy set of Victorian mysteries featuring Charlotte, the daughter of a well-to-do family, and Inspector Pitt of the police. The Cater Street Hangman is about a series of murders that take place in Charlotte’s wealthy neighborhood (thus introducing our protagonists to each other). It’s all about exposing the hypocrisies and secrets behind the glittering façades of wealthy families. Callander Square is about a series of killings in an upper-class neighborhood – it’s all about exposing the hypocrisies and secrets behind the glittering façades of wealthy families. Paragon Walk is about a series of murders in an upper-class neighborhood where Charlotte’s sister lives – it’s all about exposing the hypocrisies and secrets behind the glittering facades of wealthy families.

Most of my knowledge of the Victorian era is confined to pornography and Jack the Ripper (what? Why are you looking at me like that?) but on the surface these books seem true to the society and speech of the time. And the writing is smooth and, if not always witty, often insightful. Except that in itself is a problem. Because being true to Victorian norms, particularly in times of stress and crisis, involves practically drenching the books in levels of classism and racism I found nearly toxic. Which would have been more endurable, actually, if it weren’t for the handful of exceptions, unfailingly female, who observed the constraints of their lives with frankly unbelievable perspicacity. Because, you know, people easily and automatically perceive the subtle snare of society’s constraints upon them, particularly women who have had little formal education and even littler exposure to any other kind of life. Perry makes many of her men despicable and ridiculous, and many of her women improbably self-aware and enlightened.

I have a pet peeve for “feminist” stories which attempt to redress the forcible suppression of women by the elevation of men by forcibly suppressing the men to elevate the women.

I did read three of these books. There are like twenty more, but I doubt I’ll continue, despite the generally pleasant writing and interesting turns of phrase. It’s partly due to the complaints above, and partly due to the fact that I figured out who-done-it in every case by the halfway mark or before. What’s the point of a mystery like that?

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