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Series: Daniel Pitt #1
Published by Ballantine Books on April 10, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
In this first book in a new series, Thomas Pitt's son Daniel races to save his client from execution, setting him against London's Special Police Branch.
It's 1910, and Daniel Pitt is a reluctant lawyer who would prefer to follow in the footsteps of his detective father. When the biographer Russell Graves, who Daniel is helping defend, is sentenced to execution for the murder of his wife, Daniel's Pitt-family investigative instincts kick in, and he sets out to find the real killer. With only twenty-one days before Graves is to be executed, Daniel learns that Graves is writing a biography of Victor Narraway, the former head of Special Branch and a close friend of the Pitts. And the stories don't shed a positive light. Is it possible someone is framing Graves to keep him from writing the biography--maybe even someone Daniel knows in Special Branch?
The only answer, it seems, lies in the dead woman's corpse. And so, with the help of some eccentric new acquaintances who don't mind bending the rules, Daniel delves into an underground world of dead bodies and double lives, unearthing scores of lies and conspiracies. As he struggles to balance his duty to the law with his duty to his family, the equal forces of justice and loyalty pull this lawyer-turned-detective in more directions than he imagined possible. And amidst it all, his client's twenty-one days are ticking away.
Twenty-One Days is an intense and absorbing mystery, filled with difficult questions and seemingly impossible answers. And it is utterly impossible to put down.
It may also remind readers, just a bit, of the TV series Murdoch Mysteries. While Murdoch begins earlier, by this point in the series it is nearly contemporaneous with Twenty-One Days. And the combination of tried-and-true investigative techniques with the early days of forensic science, as well as the prominence of women scientists in professionally supporting roles has a similar feel.
But unlike Murdoch, or its own predecessor series featuring Daniel Pitt’s detecting parents, Charlotte and Thomas Pitt (series begins with The Cater Street Hangman and is marvelous), young Daniel Pitt is a junior (very junior) barrister. In other words, Daniel begins his investigations from the perspective of a practicing lawyer.
Which does not mean that he has forgotten anything he learned following his father around, or listening at keyholes and behind the banister while his parents and their friends discussed Thomas Pitt’s more difficult cases as a police detective and later a member of Special Branch.
This story, and this series, open with kind of a teaser. Daniel is defending one of his father’s old friends, and gets the man off. Not through trickery, but through science. As well as a bit of deductive reasoning and a flash of insight. But he proves that the man was not guilty, because the man really wasn’t guilty – he was merely “in the frame”.
Which leads immediately to his next case, where another, completely different man also seems to be “in the frame” for a crime he swears that he did not commit. Unfortunately for this new defendant, not only does the frame fit, but he’s such an unlikeable bastard that the jury wants to make it fit – and honestly so do both his lawyers.
Even after the man is convicted, Daniel is tasked with finding the truth, whatever it is. Luckily for Daniel’s conscience, he is not charged with proving the bastard innocent whether he is or not, merely with finding the truth of the crime, whether their client is guilty or not. And whether anyone wants him to be guilty or not.
It turns out that everyone wants the bastard to be guilty, including both of his attorneys. Daniel discovers that he wants the man to be guilty, whether he is or not, because if the man is telling the truth then much of what Daniel believes, not just about himself but about his parents, their friends, and everyone he holds dear, may be a lie. Or his father may be a monster and not the hero Daniel has always believed him to be.
There is certainly a monster somewhere at the heart of this case. But who? It’s up to Daniel to find out, before it’s too late. Once the client is hanged, the answers won’t matter – unless they’re the wrong ones.
Escape Rating A: This was absolutely marvelous, utterly compelling, and a page turner from beginning to end. If you love historical mysteries, this book, and the series that it opens, look like real winners. This first outing certainly is.
Anyone who loved the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series is going to enjoy this first case featuring their son. But it is not necessary to have read the previous series to get into this one. As this case forces Daniel to investigate his father and all of his friends and associates, the reader new to the family gets all the introduction to the past that is needed. The elder Pitts are definitely tertiary characters here, and it was lovely to see them again, but their past investigations are not truly germane to the present one.
This case is Daniel’s coming-of-age, his biggest step on the road to independent adulthood. He looks at the past but does not live in it. Investigating that past from the perspective of a lawyer and not a cop is his breaking away from it – even as he respects it and loves the people who raised him and shaped him.
This case also introduces the people who will become Daniel’s friends, colleagues and confidants, including the female forensic scientist Miriam fford Croft and the Blackwoods, mother and son, who provide sage advice and investigative assistance in equal measure.
Daniel asks for help when he needs it, however reluctantly, but the logical leaps are all his, as are the worries and fears. He learns that his parents are mortal and fallible, and that adulthood often consists of not choosing the better option, but picking between a choice of evils.
And that just because a person is not guilty of one crime, that does not mean that they are in any way innocent of much of anything at all. Those discoveries, and the need to find them, is the making of Daniel Pitt, and the heart of this terrific mystery.