Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Daniel Pitt #3
Published by Ballantine Books on April 7th 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
Two fiery deaths have young lawyer Daniel Pitt and his scientist friend Miriam fford Croft racing to solve a forensic crisis in this explosive new novel from New York Times bestselling author Anne Perry.
When a desperate woman comes to Daniel Pitt seeking a lawyer for her boyfriend, Rob Adwell, Daniel is convinced of the young man's innocence. Adwell has been accused of murder and of setting a fire to conceal the body, but Daniel is sure that science can absolve him--and Miriam fford Croft is the best scientist he knows. Miriam connects Daniel with her former teacher Sir Barnabas Saltram, an expert in arson, and together, they reveal Adwell's innocence by proving that an accidental fire caused the victim's death. But it's not long before Adwell is killed in the same fiery fashion. If these deaths are, in fact, murders, what essential clue could Daniel and Miriam have missed?
As their investigation deepens, one of Saltram's former cases comes into question, and Miriam finds herself on the defensive. If the reasoning Saltram used in that case is proved false, several other cases will have to be re-tried, and Saltram's expert status--not to mention Miriam's reputation--will be ruined. Haunted by Saltram's shady tactics in and outside of the classroom, Miriam is desperate to figure out truths both past and present and protect herself in the face of Saltram's lies. What started as an accidental fire in Adwell's case seems to be linked to a larger plot for revenge, with victims accumulating in its wake, and Miriam and Daniel must uncover who or what is stoking these recurring flames--before they, too, find themselves burned.
It’s not so much a fatal flaw that’s at the heart of this mystery, but rather one of the seven deadly sins. They say that “pride goeth before a fall” and that’s certainly true in the case of Sir Barnabas Saltram, who turns out to be the villain of this piece – without ever being one of the criminals that Daniel Pitt defends in court.
Not that he shouldn’t be.
But the case doesn’t begin with the villain. Well, it doesn’t exactly begin with the villain, and in the beginning we neither know that he’s the villain or expect him to keep showing up in the story, very much like the proverbial bad penny.
There’s more than one of those, too.
In the beginning, there’s a young woman playing on Daniel Pitt’s soft heart, begging him to defend her sweetheart who has been charged with murder. Also literally begging, as Jessie Beale expects Pitt to take the case pro bono.
Jessie did an excellent job of picking her mark, because he does, dragging the rest of his colleagues and friends along with him. And that’s where the villain comes in.
Because the murder victim died in a fire that seems to have been deliberately set, while the victim and the accused were somewhere they shouldn’t have been doing something they shouldn’t have been doing. In other words, they were trespassing while planning a crime, and death that occurs while in the commission of another crime is murder – even if that death was not intended.
The only way that Rob Adwell can get out of this frame is if an expert testifies that the blow to the back of the deceased’s head wasn’t actually a blow. And there’s one expert who can make that assertion in court and make it stick. Sir Barnabas Saltram has made his career out of making such assertions and getting juries to believe them.
He might even be right – this time.
But when a second death occurs in exactly the same manner as the first, with exactly the same players involved – except for the original victim – it begins to look like Saltram may not be as unassailable an expert as everyone once believed.
Assailing that reputation feels like tilting at a windmill. But it’s the only thing that Daniel Pitt can do to make sure that justice is done. No matter the cost.
Escape Rating A: I was absolutely enthralled by the convolutions of this story, and read it in a single day, dipping back into it whenever I had a minute. I don’t think I’m doing the twists and turns of this case nearly enough justice, and honestly I don’t think the blurb does either. It’s a roller coaster of a story, complete with twists and turns and sudden stops that feel like you’re going to be flung off the track – only for the car to set itself back on its wheels and go careening around another breathless turn.
A big part of what makes this story, and the rest of the series, work so well is its portrait of the lawyer as a young man. Daniel Pitt, the beloved son of Charlotte and Thomas Pitt, the protagonists of their own long-running series (begin with The Cater Street Hangman) is only 25 as the series opened in Twenty-One Days. He’s still 25, and it’s still 1910 in this third book, after last year’s Triple Jeopardy – which would also have been a great title for this one.
(You don’t have to read his parents’ series to get into Daniel’s. Twenty-One Days was a very fresh start. I’m not sure that you have to have read the first two in order to get into this one, but if you read one and love it as much as I do, you’ll also love the others.)
But Daniel as the protagonist is a VERY young man and very early in his career. He makes a LOT of mistakes. Even when he gets his clients off. Perhaps especially when he gets his clients off, as occurs in this one. His naivete gets taken advantage of, frequently and often. But he learns from each occasion. He’s interesting to watch because he’s legally an adult while still being aware – or forced to become aware – of just how much he has to learn.
At the same time, he’s still young enough to still have that “fire in the belly” to bring about justice at any cost – even a cost to himself or to those he cares for.
Another thing that makes this series so fascinating is that it takes place in a world on the cusp of change, and has the opportunity to both show what is changing and exhibit the forces that are arrayed against that change.
At the center of many of those changes is the person and career of Daniel’s friend, the daughter of the head of his legal chambers, Miriam fford Croft. Miriam is a forensic scientist who was not allowed to sit for her degrees, nor is she permitted to practice, because she is female. At 40 to Daniel’s 25, in this story she comes to the hard realization that change, while it is coming, will not come soon enough for her. She has to find a way to contribute and participate and do the science that she loves, and make sure that it is useful, even if it cannot be under her own banner. It’s a hard lesson, one that is made all the more poignant in this case as her achievements are called into question by a man who cannot bear to be challenged by any woman, particularly her.
Speaking of Miriam, who is certainly an important character in the series as a whole and particularly in this story, all of the US covers for this series (so far) have emphasized her character, while the series is definitely Daniel’s from beginning to end. This is one of those cases where the UK covers (below) are much better and more true to the series.
However one looks at, this is a terrific series both as legal thriller/mystery and as historical fiction/mystery. It contains well-drawn and interesting characters, solves convoluted cases with both wit and heart, and does an excellent job of portraying the era in which it is set. A winner all the way around.
If Daniel’s series continues as long as his parents’ series (32 books and counting) it will make me one very happy reader!